Despite the heat, tens of thousands of Egyptians make their voices heard in Tahrir

Mostafa Ali, Saturday 16 Jul 2011

Spirits were high in Tahrir as thousands of Egyptians visited the square to show their dissatisfaction with the lack of change under Prime Minister Sharaf and the ruling military council

Egypt people are still angry (Photo Reuters)

At around 2pm on Friday afternoon, temperatures were approaching 40 degrees Celsius and humidity was unbearable in Tahrir Square, the home of Egypt’s January 25 Revolution.

A 22-year-old woman, who had been checking identification cards as a volunteer with the popular committees protecting Tahrir Square from thugs at the Talaat Harb entrance since the early morning hours, was beginning to feel nauseous.

She turned to ask her friend for a sip of water. However, before the friend could hand her a bottle, the young woman passed out on the pavement. Luckily, medical volunteers attended to her promptly. In a matter of a few minutes, this young woman was back on the job, asking for IDs and making sure that no one entered the square carrying knives or guns.

Throughout the day, tens of thousands of Egyptians poured into Tahrir and other squares in Suez, Alexandria, Asyut and more than a dozen other Egyptian cities to take part in the “Friday of Warning” against the government of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf.

They battled an excruciating mix of heat and humidity, just as that young woman did, to support thousands who have been sitting in Tahrir for over a week to fight for the demands of the January 25 Revolution.

Today’s protest comes on the heel of weeks of rising anger against Sharaf and the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). In fact, today’s protest is the third "million person march" to take place in less than eight days to pressure Sharaf and the council.

Many political parties, old and new, are present in the square, handing out flyers and hanging party posters. Participants included the Wafd party, Al-Adl party, the Nasserists, the Democratic Front, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the People's Alliance and others.

Protesters primarily came to express a growing level of anger and dissatisfaction amongst wider sections of the population, especially workers and the poor, with the performance of Sharaf's cabinet, which took office last March.

Many charge that Sharaf has failed to prosecute officers who killed protesters during the uprising, has not done enough to adequately raise minimum wages for poor workers, and has been too soft on the former dictator Mubarak and his cronies.

Protesters in Tahrir chanted all day: "I don't feel any change; I am a person from Tahrir".

During the last week, Sharaf attempted to placate angry Egyptians by announcing plans to overhaul the cabinet, purge the police department of corrupt and brutal officers, and to compensate families of more than 10,000 young people killed and injured during the uprising.

Many in Tahrir did not think Sharaf went far enough.

Judging by the chants that thousands of protesters repeated all day and from interviews that Ahram Online conducted with protesters, the vast majority believed that Sharaf’s proposed reforms were inadequate and do not represent a fundamental break with the pre-25 January era.

Throughout the day, Popular Committees to defend the revolution, which organise battles with the remnants of the Mubarak regime on a local basis, distributed more than 10,000 copies of their weekly bulletin, "Revolutionary Egypt". Its headline: "We demand prosecution; the gang is still in power." 

Ayman Youssef, from the Popular Committees in Imbaba, told Ahram Online, "shuffling corrupt officers from one police station to another does not amount to a real purge of the police force."

A veteran of the 1973 war who used to drive a tank told Ahram Online that he came because he wants to see a new Cabinet. "Sharaf's government failed to be a government for the poor and it must go. Not one minister, all of them must go.”

Anti-Sharaf sentiments have been building up in the country for a number of weeks. Yesterday, in a press conference at the Journalists Syndicate, an ad hoc group of more than 20 organisations spearheaded by Revolution Youth Coalition announced that they call on the Prime Minister to resign.  All five front runners for possible presidential elections including Mohamed ElBaradei, Amr Moussa, Hisham El-Bastawisi support the Ad hoc group's initiative.

Nevertheless, while most protesters in Tahrir seemed to agree that Sharaf has not fought hard to bring about meaningful reform, not all of them wanted Sharaf to resign immediately.

Many in the crowd said they wanted to give Sharaf a chance to implement his new set of promised reforms.

One of them was Yahia Abu Oaf , a member of the Revolution’s Artists Union, a group of painters who have supplied the square with new revolution art since 25 January.

He told Ahram Online that he is not satisfied with Sharaf's recent promises to make concessions to revolutionaries like many others. But, Yehia also said that he is willing to give Sharaf one more chance to meet the people's demands and does not call for his immediate resignation.

“Sharaf is not the source of the problem,” said Abu Oaf emphatically, “SCAF makes all the wrong decisions."

Like many others from podiums and everywhere in Tahrir today, Abu Oaf charged that the military council bears the primary responsibility for the lack of fundamental change since the revolution began.

“The generals on the council are part of Mubarak’s regime. We need new blood on the council who support revolutionary change,” he said.

As the debates, speeches and chants continued all throughout the day, the Tahrir Youth Block, a new coalition formed last Sunday in the square by those who began the sit-in, maintained a high level of security and hygiene.

The Block is a part of new grassroots effort to organise and coordinate between sit-ins taking place in Cairo, Suez, and a number of other cities. It plans to hold a big rally at the TV and radio headquarters in Maspero to demand that Sharaf purge state media of corrupt managers and journalists.

At 6pm, when it seemed that everyone in Tahrir must have run out of gas, a group of 5,000 protesters left the square chanting and singing in a march to the High Judiciary Committee on Ramses Street 3 kilometres away to demand that the government dismiss all corrupt and pro-Mubarak judges.

As sunset approached and temperatures began to drop, and as thousands of those who battled the day’s heat were making their way home, thousands more were making their way into the square from all directions. By 9pm at least 80,000 people, or 4 times the numbers who started the day in Tahrir, had picked up the torch.

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