Al-Ahram Weekly Online   14 - 20 July 2011
Issue No. 1056
Egypt
 
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Together we stand

Protesters across Egypt insist they will remain on the streets until the military meets their demands, reports Mohamed Abdel-Baky

Click to view caption
Tens of thousands protest in Tahrir Square to save the revolution while in Suez demonstrations turn violent photos: Khaled El-Fiqi
Protesters' demands

Somaya, 62, travelled from Qalioubiya to join Tuesday's march in Cairo demanding the trial of police officers who killed protesters during the revolution. Her own son was shot dead on 28 January.

"For the last five months I have had problems sleeping. Habib El-Adli [former minister of interior] who killed my son must be punished. My son's life cannot be allowed to have been lost in vain," Somaya said.

Thousands of revolutionaries shared her sentiments. And they have had more demands to make since massive protests began last Friday to "save the revolution".

At least 15,000 people took the street on Tuesday in a mass march from Tahrir Square to the cabinet's headquarters in Qasr Al-Eini Street. The protesters demanded the resignation of the government and speedy trials for regime officials accused of killing peaceful protesters during the 18-day revolution that forced president Hosni Mubarak to step down on 11 February.

"If you cannot meet our demands it is time to leave. Do not forget that we gave you this post," read one banner raised by protesters.

The march to Qasr Al-Aini Street was joined by another group of protesters coming from the road leading to the People's Assembly. A huge Egyptian flag was raised with protesters chanting "it's our army, Field Marshal, don't try to scare us".

Tuesday's protests began soon after the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) eral Mohsen El-Fangari said that the military council had no intention of abandoning its role as Egypt's ruler during the transition period. The military council also stressed its support for Prime Minister Essam Sharaf who has faced a growing challenge in recent days from youth movements who accuse his cabinet of doing little to meet the revolution's goals.

Shortly after El-Fangari's speech protesters used Twitter and Facebook to call for an escalation in protests in Cairo, Suez and Alexandria.

"We do not accept the threatening tone El-Fangari used to respond to our demands. We will continue to take to the streets to demand our right to make Egypt a real democracy," read one comment on Twitter.

Protesters saw Tuesday as a successful day. Demonstrations, they say, forced the SCAF's hand, which "accepted" the resignation of deputy prime minister Yehia El-Gamal, one of the most reviled members of the current government. The military also announced that trials of senior former regime officials will be broadcast on large screens set up outside courts.

Youth groups agreed to continue their sit-in in Tahrir Square and offered assistance to protesters in other cities across Egypt to help keep up the momentum.

"The reason behind the success is that we were able as youth movements to unify our demands and put the Islamists in a difficult situation. It was Suez that gave us the momentum." said one Revolutionary Youth Coalition (RYC) member.

At least 150 activists travelled from Cairo to Suez and Alexandria to help youth groups there to organise their protests and keep them peaceful.

On Monday 20 political groups issued a joint statement calling on demonstrators to keep their protests peaceful. The statement called on revolutionaries to avoid violence and use only peaceful methods of struggle ---- strikes, hunger strikes and other acts of civil disobedience -- to press their demands.

"Words are stronger than bombs. Blood can overcome swords and guns. The peaceful road is the only path to a just and democratic society worthy of the memory of our great martyrs," the statement declared.

After a week of protests the political situation in Egypt has reached a new turning point with the threat of continuing civil disobedience across the country.

On Sunday and Monday protesters shut down Mogamma Al-Tahrir, Egypt's largest government complex. Hundreds of protesters prevented government employees from entering the building. Later employees were allowed access.

Youth movements say the decision was taken to show good faith in response to the concessions made by the government and the SCAF. They insisted, however, that these concessions fall well short of their demands, especially their concern about the prosecution of police officers and others implicated in the murder of protesters.

In his speech on Monday night Sharaf announced that he would reshuffle his cabinet within a week and called for public trials of former regime officials accused of killing protesters.

"A cabinet reshuffle will be made within a week. This change will achieve the goals of the revolution and reflect the real will of the Egyptian people," he said.

Sharaf also said that Interior Minister General Mansour El-Eissawi had been asked to speed up measures to restore security to the streets of Egypt, and told to dismiss police officers suspected of killing protesters during the revolution.

Sharaf also announced a reshuffle of governors before the end of the month and that he would personally head the Martyrs' Fund which has been set up to distribute compensation to those killed or injured during the revolution.

The prime minister's tone during the speech showed sympathy with demands coming from Tahrir. He took care to stress that the demands were legitimate. The substance of the speech, however, failed to appease the protesters.

"We have confidence that the prime minister has good will but his two speeches have not answered questions about Mubarak's trial or ending the referral of civilians to military tribunals," said Ahmed Maher, general coordinator of the 6 April Youth Movement.

He added it is time for the government and the military to take serious steps to guarantee that Egyptian political forces will be involved in important decisions, including the selection of the new cabinet and governors.

"The ball is now in the SCAF's court, not ours," said Maher.

On Sunday the RYC joined other political forces in issuing a joint statement of demands which the SCAF was given 48 hours to meet. They included speedy public trials for those implicated in the deaths of demonstrators, including the Mubarak family and senior officials from the former regime, the annulment of all rulings by military courts against civilians and an end to civilians being tried in military tribunals, and the repeal of anti-strike legislation. Failure to meet their demands, said the statement, would result in an escalation in the campaign of civil disobedience.

The sit-in started last Friday when hundreds of thousands of Egyptians protested in Tahrir Square and 11 other cities. Only a few hundred protesters remained at Tahrir Square on Sunday but their numbers swelled following statements by Sharaf and the SCAF on Monday and Tuesday.

"After several months of frustration we feel united again. The square has united us. The government and SCAF have created a mess," says Mohamed Ali, 23, on of the Tahrir protesters.

Though popular committees were formed to secure the square from thugs early on Tuesday clashes broke out between street vendors and protesters. Seven people were injured during the clashes.

Protesters forced two vendors out of the square, say eyewitnesses. When the pair returned, accompanied by a group of thugs, they started fighting with demonstrators in Talaat Harb Street.

In Suez, thousands gathered in the main Al-Arbaein Square on Tuesday and began marching to the Suez Canal Authority's headquarters in Port Tawfik to demand fast trials for officers accused of killing protesters.

Protesters chanted, "The people want to overthrow the field marshal," referring to head of the ruling army council, Defence Minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi.

Activists in Suez denied media reports that they were seeking to close the Suez Canal.

"From the beginning our protests have been peaceful. We would never jeopardise the waterway which is extremely important for Egypt," read one statement posted on Facebook on the second day of the sit-in before the Suez Canal's headquarters.

Protests in Suez began two weeks ago when the Suez Criminal Court released seven police officers accused of killing protesters on bail of LE10,000 each.

The families of victims of the security apparatus have repeatedly blocked the Suez-Cairo and Suez-Ain Sokhna highways to protest against the court decision.

In Alexandria about 5,000 people marched from Qaed Ibrahim Square to Manshiya Street chanting slogans against the military council and demanding radical reforms within the security forces. The protesters say they will continue to occupy the square until all the demands of the revolution are met.

In the Delta city of Mansoura thousands of people participated in a march in support of the families of those killed by the police.

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