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Egypt 25 January Revolution: What's next?

After almost two weeks of mass protests in Egypt, some intellectuals, activists and parties hold talks with the government, while the majority of protesters refuse to leave Tahrir square before president Mubarak steps down

Monday 7 Feb 2011
Tahrir sit-in
The Tahrir occupation has had thousands of young men spending the night on the square, insisting that they will not leave until Mubarak steps down. (Photo: AP)
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As some Egyptian opposition groups joined talks on Sunday with the government toward overhauling the country's political system and responding to the demands of the 25 Janurary Revolution, thousands of protesters who have maintained their daily demonstratons and overnight occupation of Tahrir square for the past two weeks insist on Mubarak's resignation as a precondition to any negotiations. Many of them believe the opposition movements don't represent them. Although the government has been changed, protesters are still camping in Tahrir square refusing to go anywhere until the regime and its head are brought down.

"We are here because nothing has been changed; they change cards, they change faces, but the regime is still the same. A good example is the ex-minister of trade Rachid Mohamed Rachid. They offered him a position in the new government, and when he refused they put him on the black list and confiscated his money," said Shaimaa Shalash, an interior designer who has been camping in Tahrir square for the past ten days. Rachid was in Dubai when the decision was made.

A great many of the protesters in Tahrir square would agree with Shalash that their demands haven't been met yet and that the decisions that have been taken are meaningless. They also believe that the officials are still very arrogant in their speeches, from Mubarak, who reads from a paper and doesn't look people in their eyes, to Omar Suleiman, his newly appointed vice president who threatened the protestors that if they don't go home "it won't be good", to Ahmed Shafiq, the newly-appointed prime minister. 

"[Shafiq] went on TV with a big smile saying he will send food and candies to Tahrir. He is making fun of us. He is being very arrogant. It is the same regime that belittles the people and despises them," adds Shalash, who insists she won't go home before the protestors' demands are met.

Although Shalash rejects negotiations with what she believes is an unwanted regime, opposition representatives are currently holding talks with the prime minister and the vice president. 

Gamal Fahmi, a member of the journalists' syndicate council, agrees with Shalash that protestors in Tahrir sqauare are not going to leave unless their demands are met. "Mubarak is stripping down the regime piece by piece, that's why we should continue to put pressure on them to get what we want," says Fahmi, who doesn't mind that some opposition parties are negotiating with the regime. "Even if they don't represent us, at least they will tell the authorities what is happening here. People here are creating their own mechanisms, one day there are a million protesters, the second day they are on a warrior break," adds Fahmi, who describes the general scene at Tahrir square as spectacular.

Fahmi, like many of the protesters in Tahrir, doesn't have a clear agenda as to what to next and admits there is "no catalogue for revolution". "It will create its own mechanisms, online and offline," adds Fahmi.

Dina Shokri, a freelance photographer, who is looking clearly exhausted from the sleepless nights at Tahrir is also undaunted. She believes the regime's tactics until today defy logic. "The only logical scenario is that Mubarak resigns. He is playing a time game, but it is not in his favour. We have more time than him as a matter of fact," says Shokri, who also doesn't mind the negotiations and says some people representating her views are attending the negotiations but they haven't reached any of their demands yet. "The regime has to leave, emergency law has to end, and the rigged parliament has to be dissolved, both the upper and lower houses, nothing of that was achieved," adds Shokri.

But unlike Shokri, Fahmi and Shalash, Omar El-Kafrawi, who studies engineering, does mind the negotiations and believes no one represents him and no one should speak for him. He asserts that he is staying in Tahrir until all demands are met. These include the removal of the regime, establishing a national unity government that amends the constitution, establishing a new modern secular state, dissolving the parliament, an immediate end to emergency law, and putting those responsible for killing protesters on trial.

"We want freedom, integrity, and justice. We the young people were brutally beaten and killed by the police last week, and the opposition parties were not there. Now after the massacres are over they want to jump on our movement," says El-Kafrawi, asserting that he has no political affiliation and that all parties have their own agendas and are working for their own benefits while independents like him are working for Egypt's benefit.

El-Kafrawi, who aspires to be Egypt's president in 2050 when he believes there will be democracy and free elections, accuses Egyptian TV of brainwashing people and prefers it shuts down because "this is the money of tax payers, they waste it - no one watch their lies."

Mohamed Khaled, 31, who works in marketing, does not insist on Mubarak's resignation if he stays on only as a figure without political or legislative power. "He can delegate to Omar Suleiman, who would need to change the constitution, end emergency law, dissolve the parliament, and assure freedom of political parties and the press," says Khaled. Some agree with him that it is not only Mubarak that needs to be removed, but the regime itself, which consolidates all political and legislative power in the hands of one person.

Most of the protesters Ahram Online spoke to in Tahrir say they dream of a modern democratic state. "All that we have been offered is a bunch of promises. We don't have anything tangible yet. For thirty years we have seen lying and rigging. If only he removes the emergency law, and dissolves the parliament, we may believe him that he will leave in September and change the constitution, but we don't believe him," adds Khaled.

Mohammed Hafez, who teaches Arabic in Germany and has come back to participate in the demonstrations, is ready to compromise. "We won't get all of our demands. Mubarak doesn't seem to be leaving, but we need to make sure we get the rest of our demands that insure his regime goes, and we have a new democratic secular state with a new constitution, and a new parliament and fair elections," says Hafez, who is eager to form a representative list of people for a national unity government - mostly lawyers, judges and journalists, some Copts and Muslim Brotherhood members, as well as ElBaradei and Ahmed Zewil. "These people represent us, understand politics and can take us to a safe democracy," adds Hafez, who says he won't go back to Germany or to work before achieving democracy.

Although protestors in Tahrir square appear to agree on one demand - the removal of the regime -  they may differ on whether to negotiate or not, and if so, how. "This is one of the main drawbacks of the revolution. Usually people think about what they want and then they start a revolution, but now it is the other way around. We have created the revolution first and then in the next transitional period, we will be allowed to see politics, and decide what to join and what to do," says Mohammed Kalfat, a translator who participated in the sit in.

Wondering what's next, Salma Said, a cultural manager and activist who has participated in the sit-in since day one, says Mubarak has to resign first, then we need to work on the grassroots level. "We should write down our list of demands and the actual time frame, and work on together to reach consensus on it, everyone in Tahrir. Then we send our list to the vice president or Amr Moussa," adds Said, who tried reaching a consensus with her fellow Tahrir protesters but couldn't deliver her message. "They told me I will cause confusion," says Said.

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