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Protesters press demands in Tahrir in preparation for second day of anger

Demonstrations in Tahrir today called for trials of Mubarak and his associates, opposition to trials of civilians in military courts and national unity

Osman El Sharnoubi, Friday 20 May 2011
Friday protest
Photo: Mai Shahin
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Activists and revolutionaries gathered today in Tahrir square to instill new spirit in a revolution many see as taking its first steps towards the realisation of its demands.

Among the many chants heard in the square, “I can’t feel the change, that’s why I’m in Tahrir” overshadowed others.

While many groups called for today’s demonstration, no central demand was apparent. But there seemed to be a consensus that certain factors required continued protest.

Salma Said, political activist and member of the group No to Military Trials for Civilians said people are coming out again because they “simply aren’t satisfied with the situation.”

The banners and chants revealed the main concerns posed by the revolutionaries: trials for the Mubarak family and former regime figures; civilians undergoing military trials; and sectarian tensions that were inflamed recently when a group of Islamists attacked a church in Imbaba.

Among the chants was a variation on the popular chant: “revolution revolution until victory, revolution in all of Egypt’s streets.” Today “streets” was replaced by “churches” once and then by “mosques” a second time.

“Muslim and Christian, one hand” was a variation on a previous chant, “the people and the army, one hand,” heard less often following the detainment and trials of protesters after Mubarak’s ouster.

Many banners expressed the rejection of military trials for civilians, especially since many of those arrested by the military were charged arbitrarily with crimes they didn’t commit, such as thuggery.

The biggest banner present in the square had the words “Mahmoud El Sadati; student not criminal” on one side and “civilian trials for the thieves; military ones for those defending the cause” on the other.

Demonstrators circling the square chanted against military violence, ironically questioning the reason for the violence against protesters outside the Israeli embassy last week by asking “are we Zionists?”

There was no security presence since the protest officially began at 1p.m., except for one incident when a civilian and police officers and a few soldiers arrested a thief caught by the crowd.

As the thief was dragged out, one protester questioned in frustration the validity of arresting the petty thieves while the serious robbers were being bailed out.

However, the most vocal issue of the day was that of the prosecution of Mubarak and his former associates.

The release of the ousted president’s wife Suzanne Thabet and former chief of presidential staff Zakariya Azmi (whose bail was revoked Thursday on appeal by the public prosecutor) fuelled doubt about the sincerity of the trials.

A former government employee, referring to his occupation as “sold employee” and preferring not to be named, asked “where are the trials?” He complained about the slow process and the lack of verdict or punishment in any trial to date.

Protesters chanted that acquittal “is a scandal, a disgrace and a scandal,” echoing public anger about reports that Mubarak would apologize and return his assets to Egypt in return for acquittal.

Ahmed Fathi, an activist present in the square, said the calls for protests were centered around a rejection of Mubarak’s apology and demand for return of stolen assets, political and social rights of Egyptians, the commemoration of martyrs of the uprising and objection to military trials of civilians.

Fathi stressed that the protests were “general,” explaining that “a revolution starts with an uprising, and is then followed by a war between revolutionaries and the former regime.” He also stressed the importance of having a presidential council to run the country in a transition phase rather than the military council now presiding.

Although several thousand protesters were present, this fell short of the tens and hundreds of thousands of marchers to Tahrir many times earlier. Yet there is high hope among revolutionaries that next Friday, 27 May would witness protests on a massive scale.

Fathi said that the demonstration on Friday the 20th is to raise awareness about the mass protests that are to take place on the 27th.

Moustafa Mahmoud, a government accountant attending the protests today, said the number of protesters does not reflect the number of Egyptians wanting Mubarak to be tried fairly. He also believes the late announcement of the event accounted for the low turnout, and cited a survey his company carried out showing that 90 per cent of those surveyed wanted the former regime to be tried for their crimes.

Mahmoud is also optimistic about the outcome of Friday the 27th.

Friday the 27th is dubbed “the second Egyptian anger revolution,” according to the Facebook page announcing it.  On this day, protests are to take place throughout Egypt, demanding removal of all symbols of the former corrupt regime from state institutions, trials for the Mubarak family and all the corrupt figures that flourished under him, the return of all stolen funds and the establishment of a civilian presidential council.

 

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