CAIRO, (AFP) — Tens of thousands of Egyptians massed in Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square on Friday two months after president Hosni Mubarak was ousted, to demand that former regime officials including the veteran strongman be purged and tried.
Waving flags and holding banners in a protest dubbed the “Day of Trial and Cleansing,” protesters vowed to press the ruling military council to deliver on promises of reform and justice.
Regular rallies have been held since Mubarak was toppled on February 11, but the numbers were significantly higher this week because of the participation of the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest and most organised opposition movement.
“These corrupt people need to be tried,” said Fairuz al-Tayyeb, 27, a teaching assistant.
She said the military council that took power when Mubarak was ousted was stalling over promises for a free and democratic system.
“I don’t understand why they are so slow. I feel corruption is everywhere, even in the military. But now we know our way and we will keep coming back every Friday until the country is cleansed,” she said, as a military helicopter hovered overhead.
“There is still a delay in taking action against people who harmed the Egyptians. We are worried they can still do more damage,” said Sameh Ahmed, 35, a development adviser.
Hossam Bahgat, who heads the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said the protests had been successful.
“People are coming primarily to keep the momentum. The transition process has so far lacked predictability,” Bahgat said.
“The Friday protests have so far been effective in getting two or three concessions each time.”
Earlier, draped in Egyptian flags, Muslims were joined by Christians for weekly prayers during which Muslim cleric Safwat al-Higazi called for Mubarak to face criminal charges.
“We don’t only want to try him for the millions (of dollars) but also for the blood,” he told the crowd. “We want to try him just as he tried the people in state security courts, but we want a popular trial.”
Mubarak, his wife Suzanne and their two sons Alaa and Gamal and their wives have already been banned from travel and had their assets frozen.
Higazi said the “cleansing” had to go beyond the presidential palace, threatening to storm the state television building because regime elements were still there.
“The rotten smell of the regime emanates from under their masks. We are prepared to occupy this building and manage it to make a patriotic media,” he said.
Tahrir Square was the centre of massive nationwide protests that erupted on January 25 and lead to the ouster of Mubarak, who handed power to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
The new military rulers promised political reforms, but ahead of Friday’s protest, several men describing themselves as former officers publicly challenged the council’s democratic aspirations.
In a series of defiant videos widely circulated on YouTube, men saying they speak for many members the armed forces accuse the military council of thwarting the goals of the revolution.
One, Hatem Abbadi, accused the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces of staging a counter-revolution led by its head, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, who was Mubarak’s defence minister for two decades.
Another, Sharif Othman, who says he is a former air force officer, accused Tantawi of corruption and said officers would join Friday’s protest in uniform to demand the “cleansing” of the military.
The military council has warned that any civilian wearing military uniform at the protest would face trial in a military court, the state-owned Al-Ahram reported on Friday.
Several former ministers and members of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party are being investigated as part of a sweeping probe into corruption, but pro-democracy activists say key figures still need to be brought to justice.
On Thursday, Mubarak’s chief of staff Zakariah Azmi was detained for 15 days on suspicion of illegally acquiring his wealth.
Azmi, one of the former president’s closest aides, is under investigation by an anti-corruption panel that has also summoned Mubarak’s younger son Gamal for questioning.
Gamal is expected to appear before the panel next week.
The first member of Mubarak’s regime to face trial was much reviled former interior minister Habib al-Adly, whose security forces had wide powers of arrest under the emergency law.