Demonstrators greet historic Egypt parliament with unmet demands

Salma Shukrallah, Monday 23 Jan 2012

Thousands march to the Islamist-dominated first post-Mubarak parliament pressing for unfulfilled demands of the January 25 revolution; others come in celebration and good faith

Muslim Brotherhood supporters celebrate outside parliament (Photo: Reuters)

As the first post-revolution People’s Assembly convened on Monday, thousands of Egyptians marched to the parliament building bearing different demands. While Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist supporters, whose representatives gained a majority in parliament, came to celebrate, others brought their grievances or their concerns.

Amid the high security surrounding parliament, dozens could still be seen standing in front of its headquarters during the early hours of Monday.  Passersby or those who came in support of their chosen parliamentarians debated what is to be expected after the revolution.

Mohamed, a driver who explained he had travelled to several different countries seeking work, said: "I did not vote for anyone because I did not know any of the candidates. This parliament will not change anything." Mohamed’s view was, however, highly contested by several supporters of the Salafist Nour Party, who were more optimistic.

"We are expecting a lot of this parliament. We expect they will answer our needs and solve the problems the country has been facing including unemployment and shortage of gas cylinders," said Saeed Mohamed El-Sayed, a voter for the Nour Party who came to celebrate.    

Another passerby, Mohamed Mahmoud Ali, said that he, along with a group of others, started a sit-in in Tahrir because of their deteriorating economic situation. "I am a merchant and since the revolution the market has been suffering. Many people have had their homes shattered because of the economic situation. I believe a lot of people will come in protest to Tahrir Square on 25 January."  

The parliament building, located only metres away from Tahrir Square in an area full of governmental establishments, was surrounded by state security and barbed wire. All major roads leading to the building were effectively cut off.  Concrete walls, hastily erected during recent clashes between protesters and military which erupted near the Cabinet only weeks earlier, also assisted security forces who aimed to block any major gatherings from reaching parliament.

Meanwhile, four different protests were gathering. Families of the martyrs, still seeking retribution for their lost children, gathered in Abd El-Moneim Riad Square, now famous for witnessing the Battle of the Camel where dozens of demonstrators lost their lives fighting pro-Mubarak thugs on 2 February.

"I am the mother of the martyr Mohamed Mostafa. He was shot in his head on 28 January. He was 22 years old. Every time we go to court they adjourn the case, moving the files from one office to another. We will head to parliament demanding the rights of our sons," said a woman wearing black.

"Our sons are not thugs as they claim. Does he look like a thug to you?" asked the woman, pointing to the picture of her lost son with tears in her eyes.

Near the Supreme Court building, hundreds more gathered carrying banners decrying the military trials of civilians, and chanting against the ruling military council. Hundreds more gathered in Kasr El-Ainy Street, demanding social equality and workers' rights.

Several thousand artists also gathered at the Cairo Opera House, protesting censorship in the arts.

Script writer Omar Shama said: "Egypt has been oppressed for ages, and we will not tolerate further oppression which may happen as a result of the recent political developments in Egypt. It is important to have an artistic front that will fight further oppression."  

As the four gatherings marched to parliament, the different crowds merged, creating one big demonstration. Although the protests initially held different demands, the slogans quickly united, chanting against military rule, for the rights of the martyrs and for freedom.

Unable to reach parliament because of the strong security presence, demonstrators were eventually forced to march down a parallel road where hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist supporters were already gathered. Although the two groups merged peacefully, tensions became obvious. Several young protesters chanted against the Brotherhood, claiming they were present assisting security forces in halting demonstrations.

Demonstrators frequently chanted: "the revolutionaries will be back on January 25," spreading the call for another mass movement to take place on the anniversary of Egypt’s revolution. Earlier on the same day, several activists from “Salasel El-Thawra” or “series of the revolution” held dozens of tied together Egyptian flags spread metres long in front of parliament reading the hundreds of demands revolutionaries still wish to see accomplished.     

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