Egypt revolution fortunes swing back despite Brotherhood backtracking

Yasmine Fathi , Sunday 3 Apr 2011

The revolution is far from being over, even if the Muslim Brotherhood has sold out, say young revolutionaries reinvigorated by the success of the Friday to Save the Revolution

Tahrir 1 April
Tens of thousands gathered once again in Tahrir on the first of April, following a weeks-long hiatus (photo: Reuters)

After the success of the “Save the Revolution” Friday on April 1, revolutionaries have given the government one week to fulfill their demands and warned that if they don’t things will “escalate,’ next Friday.

“I don’t want to reveal exactly what we are planning, but we will take matters to another level and the situation will definitely escalate,” says Amr Aly, a member of the 6th of April Movement.

Last Friday, an estimated 100,000 protesters demonstrated in Tahrir Square. The protest was considered the first large scale demonstration since the armed forces emptied the square on March 9, followed by an anti-protest law on March 20, which banned protests, strikes and sit-ins.

A subsequent call by a number of opposition movements for a million person march to protest the law on Friday, March 22, failed to gain momentum with only a few thousand protesters making it to Tahrir Square and the Radio and TV headquarters in Maspero. This led many to question if the revolution has finally lost steam. But with the appearance of thousands of protesters in Tahrir last Friday, revolutionaries feel that they are gaining the upper hand once again.

“They have been slow in responding to our demands for a long time, but then the anti-protest law, followed by a constitutional decree in which they retained most of the articles from the 1971 constitution or Mubarak’s constitution as we like to call it, was the last straw,” says Ahmed Ezzat the coordinator of the Popular Committee to Defend the Revolution. “But we have shown them that the Egyptian people can rise again and again and again until we get what we want.”

Already a Facebook page calling for a million march next Friday has been set up. The page calls for a ‘Friday of Revolutionary Legitimacy,” on April 8.

The group said that they demand that all local government councils are dissolved immediately, emergency law lifted, the NDP dissolved, all political detainees released and the abolishing of military trials for civilians. Add to that, says Ezzat, are the demands that the revolutionaries called for in last week’s protest, namely the prosecution of Mubarak along with his “axis of evil,” namely Zakaria Azmy, Fathi Srour and Safwat El Sherif. But most importantly, the revolutionaries no longer want the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to run the country and demand that they hand over their power to a civilian presidential council. The groups says that if the demands are not met by the end of this week they will begin an open sit-in, perhaps a hint of what is to come.

“We are calling it the Friday of Revolutionary legitimacy because the revolution has made all symbols of the old regime illegitimate and made the people decide who is legitimate and who isn’t,” explains Ezzat. “And we believe that the armed forces gets its legitimacy from the Square and if they don't fulfill the demands of the revolution this means that their legitimacy will be put to question.

Indeed, the revolutionaries know that pressure works. A couple of days before the last protest the cabinet replaced key media figures, responding to one of the top demands of the revolution. On Thursday, a day before the protest El Sherif, Srour and Azmy were banned from leaving the country, although their assets have not yet been frozen. A day after the protest, PM Sharaf announced that the cabinet will revise the revilled anti-protest law.

Political activist  blogger Malek Mustafa says that the government’s slow response to the demands is the reason why protesters are starting to hit the streets again.

“There is this saying ‘slow justice is slow injustice,’ and this is exactly what’s happening,” says Mustafa.

He noted also that the significant fact that a massive demonstration was possilble, despite the Muslim Brotherhood’s refusal to join in the protest.

“They decided not to participate and behaved as if they controlled the street, as if their lack of participation will mean the protest will fail,” says Mustafa. “But this made people furious because as everyone knows that this was a popular revolution and that no political group was responsible for it. So yesterday thousands went out to make that point to the Brotherhood.”

Many opposition groups have criticized the MB for not joining the protests, with many saying that they have strayed from the path of the revolution. The brotherhood had announced prior to the protest that they won’t join in last Friday’s protest saying that they need to give the government and armed forces a grace period to fulfill all the demands, but emphasized that they will resume protesting on April 8 if the demands remain unmet.

However, Hossam Tamam, an expert on Islamic movements says that he doubts that they will rejoin the revolution again.

"After the revolution and specifically during the referendum, we began seeing a filtering process between two groups," says Tamam. “The first group wanted complete reform, a democratic nation with a new political system and the second group were satisfied with some adjustments to the political arena and I believe that the MB belonged to the second group.”

Tamam says that all the MB wanted was the freedom to form a political party, to participate in public life, which they were banned from doing during the Mubarak era, the security apparel to leave them alone and stop slamming them in prison, and free and transparent elections.

“And when they were given all these decade long demands by the armed forces, they backtracked,” says Tamam. “And then they began collaborating with the armed forces by promoting the Yes vote in the referendum and urging people to give the armed forces a chance for the sake of stability.”

But MB or not, the revolutionaries plan to soldier on. Tahrir Square, which has been glaringly empty for weeks now, was packed with tens of thousands of protesters, a sign, says Mustafa, that the revolution is once again gaining momentum.

“This is the message we are giving to the armed forces,” says Mustafa. “The revolution is not over and we are gaining ground again.”

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