ElBaradei made a short appearance in Giza march to Tahrir, but had to leave for health reasons, says his supporters. (Photo: Reuters)
On the quiet morning of Wednesday 25 January – a national holiday, whether to commemorate Police Day or to celebrate the first anniversary of the revolution is unclear – hundreds of protesters started gathering outside Al-Istiqama Mosque at Giza Square, readying for a large march to set off to Tahrir Square after the noon prayers. While some, including the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists (whose parties gained a majority of seats in the recently elected parliament) regard the day in a celebratory light, many Egyptians refuse to follow suit.
The current revolutionaries see the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) as having attempted time and again to abort the revolution, also believing that almost none of the main revolutionary demands have been met. Many accuse SCAF of deliberately slowing down the trial of the former regime leaders, distorting the image of revolutionaries in a media still subservient to the rulers and violently beating and killing protesters among other counterrevolutionary acts.
Among the chants of the Giza protesters were "Down with military rule" and "We don't want to be ruled by soldiers, nor those who trade with religion". Most believe there should be a transition of power from the ruling military council to a civil body. "Power must be handed over to a civilian council or the parliament's speaker," said Mahmoud, a sales representative who preferred not to disclose his last name. Mahmoud also stressed what he views as the necessity to sack the current SCAF-appointed government in favour of one who would effectively deal with current problems and kick-start the process of achieving revolutionary goals.
Mohamed Zinhom Mohamed, a 28-year-old who works, as he insisted, as a "revolutionary," echoed Mahmoud's demands, saying that parliament must replace SCAF as the ruling entity. Though parliament is dominated by Islamic forces, which many believe have been allied with SCAF, its speaker, Saad El-Katatni, being a prominent Muslim Brotherhood figure and the Secretary-General of the organisation’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, Mohamed believes it is nevertheless an elected body and hence a genuine representative force.
Earlier this month, El-Katatni stated that the Freedom and Justice Party has rejected the call for SCAF to hand over power on 25 January 2012, saying the party is committed to SCAF's plan, which is handing over power to an elected president in June. After the noon prayers, in which prominent opposition figure and former director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mohamed ElBaradei took part (reportedly leaving the rally shortly afterwards), the march began, quickly gaining momentum as it moved to towards Tahrir.
The rally swelled by the time it reach Cairo University, where another group of protesters joined, chanting against General Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of SCAF and former Mubarak-era defense minister, and repeating the famous slogan voiced on the streets of Egyptian cities a year ago: "Bread, freedom, human dignity." Present among the thousands-strong rally were a plethora of groups which included the Revolutionary Socialists, the 6 April Youth Movement and the Group for the Independence of Universities.
Some protesters held banners demanding the transition of power while others wore masks bearing the faces of martyrs like Sheikh Emad Effat, a revolutionary Azhar scholar who was killed by a bullet from an unknown source during the violent dispersal of the Council of Ministers sit-in by the army last month. While the chants vowed retribution for the martyrs who died during the preceding year and to continue the revolution, by far the most prominent among the chants was "Down, down with military rule." In contrast to last year, when Mubarak was in power, the streets were virtually empty of police.
One member of the Group for the Independence of Universities, the Cairo University professor Laila Soueif, noted that the disparity in the security situation between now and a year ago was a sign of change, given the immense number that took to the streets on Wednesday. "At least we know we're not going to die as we approach the square," said Soueif as the rally approached Kasr El-Nil Bridge, one of the main entryways. Soueif said that power must be transferred immediately, saying this was the principal reason she was in the street. Asked to which entity power should be delegated, Soueif said this should be determined by parliament, which would decide on the mechanisms of transfer, not necessarily taking power into its own hands. As the rally entered Tahrir, where people from all walks of life were either watching, celebrating or protesting, protesters did their best to unify the chants to "Down, down with military rule."