Five months after the departure of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, protesters are again occupying Cairo's Tahrir Square, this time to demonstrate against the military council that replaced him. But outside the iconic square, some Egyptians are growing impatient with demonstrations, indicating a growing divide on the best way to secure Egypt's future.
Thousands of protesters, some of whom have camped out in the square since a protest Friday, are demanding faster trials for former regime officials and punishment for policemen accused of killing civilians during the 18-day uprising that began in January. Demonstrations are also ongoing in Alexandria and Suez.
The recent acquittal of several former regime officials on charges of corruption, as well as the release of some accused policemen on bail, fanned anger among Egyptians against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which is leading the country until new elections are held and has used some of the same authoritarian tactics as Mr. Mubarak. Protesters called for mass protests Tuesday.
“I’m here for the rights of the martyrs,” said Amin Fathi, a young man from a poor area of Cairo who was busy affixing an Egyptian flag to a sign full of slogans against the military rulers. He is angry that policemen accused of killing protesters are still on duty, and Mubarak has yet to be tried. “There hasn’t been change. If things had changed, we wouldn’t be here,” he says as a crowd gathers and agrees. “Without our pressure, the military will not do anything.”
After Friday’s large protest, interim Prime Minister Essam Sharaf pledged to reshuffle the cabinet and fire police officers accused of killing protesters, and urged swift trials for former regime officials. Tuesday he announced on his Facebook page that Deputy Prime Minister Yehia Gamal had resigned. Protesters had associated him with the Mubarak regime and demanded his resignation.
Yet some in Egypt are growing weary of protests, like the middle-aged woman in bright-pink lipstick and coiffed curls who stopped by a protesters’ tent in Tahrir Wednesday to ask why they were there.
Sitting in suffocating heat under the tarpaulin ceiling, she argued that a better way to see that the military gives up power is to push forward the political process of electing a new parliament and president and writing a new constitution.
The self-appointed coalitions and committees who speak for the protesters have not formed a coherent political front. Their continued protests, says former newspaper publisher Hisham Kassem, are a “disaster for the political process.”
He warns that if the situation becomes too chaotic, the military could become a permanent, and not temporary, ruler. Indeed, a harsh statement by the military Tuesday ominously warned against protests. And recent polls show strong support for the military among the population.
“There are far better ways to go about this without jeopardizing the [political] process. If they want to expedite the trials, they need to address logistic issues,” Mr. Kassem says, arguing that holding speedy trials will not lead to justice. “What are we trying to build here? Rule of law, or move into chaos?”
But in the revolutionary square, the atmosphere is reminiscent of the heady days when protesters challenged their government and won. Some expressed excitement to be back in such familiar roles. Protesters worked together to hang huge sheets of plastic over the garden in the center of the traffic circle, shading them from the intense July sun. Underneath the plastic, protesters lounge in dozens of tents pitched in the dusty grass, where some spend the night. They block traffic from the central hub, and volunteers guard the entrances to the square, searching and checking IDs of entrants, just as they did during the revolution.
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