More than three months after Hosni Mubarak was ousted from presidency, tens of thousands of Egyptians converged on Tahrir Square for what some are calling a "second revolution." While they have ousted their dictator, many are impatient with the pace of change under Egypt's interim military rulers and see a need for steady pressure.
They saw the announcement this week that Mr. Mubarak will be tried for killing more than 800 protesters as vindication that their strategy is working. Now, they're redoubling efforts to ensure that their other demands are met.
“If we put on more pressure, we will get more results,” says Waleed Rashed of the April 6 Youth Movement, an organization that started as a Facebook group in 2008 and became one of the instigators of the Egyptian revolution. “We want to always remind the military and the government that we are here and we are following them day by day.”
Many attended today's “second day of rage,” a reference to the Jan. 28 protests that resulted in violent clashes with police, because they are displeased with the performance of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and they want to see faster trials of Mubarak and members of the former regime. They want to speed up democratic reform. Others were there to denounce military tribunals; activists say thousands of Egyptians have been unjustly convicted since late January.
“The people in charge are still corrupt,” said Egyptian blogger Mostafa Sheshtawy as friends greeted him in Tahrir Square. “We are ... the people who can build this country.”
No unified set of demands
Tahrir Square on Friday was reminiscent of the 18 iconic days before Mubarak was ousted from presidency on Feb. 11, and the many Friday protests that have followed since. People carried signs and children wore revolutionary headbands with the colors of their prized Egyptian flag. Today, the square was a bit less crowded.
Similar to the all the other protests that have taken place since Jan. 25, Friday’s lacked central leadership; there was no single list of agreed-upon demands among various activists, party members and individuals.
“It doesn’t seem that it’s a strategy focused on the Egyptian population, but a strategy focused on keeping up the pressure on the military,” says Michele Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “They feel as soon as they stop protesting, they will lose all their leverage and they’re not satisfied with what they’ve achieved so far.”
Many Egyptians urge patience
But many are content to give the military the benefit of the doubt.
“The protesters fear we are losing the revolution,” says student Heba Marrey, standing at the main gate of Cairo University’s sprawling campus with piles of books in her arms – too busy to attend the protest. “But the people who aren’t going are simply saying: be patient.”
Ms. Marrey says she supports the military because unlike the uprisings in countries like Libya and Syria, the Egyptian military helped their revolution. Many are, for the most part, pleased with the way the military is ruling and want to move forward in the post-revolution period.
“I think there is tension between the ongoing revolution and the political transition and [many Egyptians] are caught in the middle,” says Dr. Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment.
Some warn that impatience could undermine protesters' efforts
Analysts say the lack of patience among protesters may ultimately damage the demonstrators’ efforts to evoke effective and sustained change. “I think most Egyptians want to move on and move into the post-protest phase and they want to return to normalcy, politically and economically,” says Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar. “I don’t think there is a lot of sympathy for endless protesting and I’m worried these activists are going to wear the patience of the people they are trying to reach out to.”
Dr. Hamid argues that the protesters are not playing the “long game” in politics and should be focusing on party building instead of ongoing demonstrations. “Where is the long term vision? At some point the military is not going to lead and you have to plan for the post-military phase,” he says.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which is expected to field candidates for about 50 percent of seats in the upcoming parliamentary elections, announced on May 25 that the group would not participate in Friday’s protests because it may cause unnecessary strife. Instead, the Brotherhood called for political unity.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces released a statement Thursday warning protesters of possible clashes. They were not present in the square to protect the demonstrators, whom they say have the right to peacefully protest.
Nada Abdel Mageed, sitting on a dark green fence in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Friday and holding up a hand-written sign, could have spoken for many when she said, “I’m here for the concept of freedom.”