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Amid Egypt's election, Tahrir Square stays relevant (VIDEO)

Egypt's elections have begun amid high turnout and public optimism. But Tahrir Square's protesters are promising to keep the pressure on the country's military rulers. 

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Numbers dwindle in Tahrir

Massive crowds gathered in Tahrir last week, demanding that the military hand over power to civilians. The protests came after a large demonstration led by Islamist groups making the same demand. But they began when police forcefully expelled hundreds of people from the square, and they multiplied exponentially as security forces killed protesters.

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By the middle of the week, Tahrir Square looked as it had during the mass protests against Mubarak in January and February, this time with the crowds demanding the ouster of the military rulers. The protesters weren't just the core of activists who had struggled to fill the square over the summer, but a broader group of Egyptians.

As the elections approached, numbers in the square dwindled. Today, a few thousand milled around, arguing about politics or chanting against the military government.

New banners honored the people whose deaths last week had brought others to Tahrir and tents made from blankets and tarps filled the garden in the center of the square. Some were worried the military would use the smooth election process and high turnout as justification to once again kick them out of the square, saying that they don’t have the support of all Egyptians.

A two-pronged offensive against military rule

And indeed, many Egyptians are against protests. In some neighborhoods of Cairo yesterday, many voters expressed worries about the country’s stability and frustration with high prices. They saw protesters in Tahrir as exacerbating both problems.

“They are destroying the economy,” said Zein Al Abidine Hassan.

Another voter, Abdel Hakim Mahmoud Abdel Hakim, said those in the square represent 5 percent of Egyptians. “These incidents encouraged us to come and vote so we can help this country to get back to work and progress, and to have a parliament that represents us instead of these everlasting demonstrations,” he said of last week’s violence and protests.

Others said they supported Tahrir, and said they voted out of hope that the new parliament would be strong enough to challenge the military, taking the battle from the streets to the halls of parliament. In Tahrir today, Mohamed Mustapha said he voted for just that reason. “We must fight on both fronts,” he said. “Maybe the parliament will be able to take power from the military. But also we can’t leave Tahrir.”

A government employee who says he was motivated to street protest by police and military brutality against protesters, Mr. Mustapha says many of those in the square voted over the past two days. But they came back, and would continue to come back until their demands were met, one way or the other. “We hope for a political solution,” he said. “But we are ready to take our rights from the street, as well.”

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