Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Thousands in Cairo’s Tahrir to push for change | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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CAIRO, (AFP) — Protesters marched to Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Friday to join thousands there demanding democratic change, a year after the uprising that toppled veteran president Hosni Mubarak.

After noon prayers, organised marches left Cairo mosques and headed for the square, the symbolic heart of the Egyptian uprising, on a day dubbed “the Friday of Pride and Dignity” by the dozens of pro-democracy groups organising the rallies.

“Down with military rule!”, shouted demonstrators who left the Istiqama mosque in Giza, echoing the growing discontent over the military junta’s handling of the transition.

“Legitimacy comes from the square,” they chanted, clapping and waving flags.

In Tahrir, thousands had gathered in prayer in the centre of the square, among the tents that marked a sit-in launched on Wednesday, the first anniversary of the start of the uprising.

Sheikh Mazhar Shahin, the imam leading the prayers, said that while the revolt had produced notable achievements, the journey towards democratic rule was far from over.

“People came out on January 25, 2011 to call for freedom, justice, dignity and the end of a regime that spread all forms of corruption,” Shahin told the crowd.

“They managed to remove the head of the regime in just 18 days and put some of its symbols behind bars. However, the revolution has not achieved all its goals and that is what brought people out on the streets again on the first anniversary,” Shahin said.

Mubarak is currently on trial in Cairo, facing accusations of involvement in the killing of protesters. His two sons Alaa and Gamal and several of his ministers are also in custody on charges of corruption.

But the trials have been criticised as politically motivated, aimed more at placating an angry public than providing justice.

In Tahrir, the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, which swept the majority of seats in the new parliament through its Freedom and Justice Party, occupied a part of the square where the mood was celebratory.

On the other side, the chants were strongly anti-military.

“None of the goals of the revolution have been achieved. What are they celebrating for? Because they won seats in parliament?,” said Fahd Ibrahim, an anti-military protester in reference to the Islamists.

But a Muslim Brotherhood member insisted that both camps want the same thing.

“We are here to mark one year since January 25. We also want to push for the goals of the revolution,” said Essam Elsawy. “We want the same thing. But each is taking a different route.”

Protesters are all demanding an end to military trials of civilians, the restructuring of the interior ministry and a guarantee of freedoms and social justice.

But Islamists have been less vocal in demanding the military step down.

Friday’s rallies mark a year since the army was deployed to control the deadly protests calling for an end to Mubarak’s regime.

The military took power when Mubarak resigned on February 11, in a dramatic turn of events for the Arab world’s most populous nation who had known the same president for 30 years.

But a year later, many are disenchanted and even angry at the ruling military, who protesters accuse of human rights abuses and of reneging on promises of reform.

“Leave!” the independent daily Al-Fagr told the military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Mubarak’s longtime defence minister.

Friday’s rally is to send “the military back to the barracks,” the independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm said on its front page.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has vowed to cede power to civilian rule by June when a new president has been elected, and has repeatedly pointed to the parliamentary elections as proof of its intention to abandon politics.

But protesters accuse the military of seeking to maintain some degree of control over the country’s affairs, even after June.

On Tuesday, Tantawi announced the partial lifting of a decades-old state of emergency in an apparent bid to placate protesters.

But he said the law would still apply to cases of “thuggery”, a move slammed by human rights groups and activists who say the term is too broad and gives authorities free rein to stifle freedoms.

Leading dissident and Nobel laureate Mohammed ElBaradei has proposed a new political timetable for the country which calls for the newly elected parliament “to elect an interim president immediately,” followed by the formation of a panel to draft a new constitution.

In a statement on his Facebook page, ElBaradei said the new charter “must define the political system and guarantee a civil state, rights and freedoms”.

“After a year of fumbling, it is time to agree on correcting the course,” he said.