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Divisions in Tahrir as Egyptians mark uprising
CAIRO (AP) — Tens of thousands of Egyptians rallied Wednesday to mark the first anniversary of the country’s 2011 uprising, with liberals and Islamists gathering on different sides of Cairo's Tahrir Square in a reflection of the deep political divides that emerged in the year since the downfall of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak.
Liberal and secular groups marched into the square calling for continued “revolution” against the ruling generals who took power after Mubarak’s ouster. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists, in contrast, pressed a message that the revolution had succeeded, the time for protests is over and now Egyptians needed to rally behind the new parliament that they dominate.
Military generals led by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi took over from Mubarak when he stepped down on Feb. 11, 2011. Revolutionaries accuse them of perpetuating Mubarak’s authoritarian system, saying that even though Egypt has held its freest election in living memory, it is not changing the roots of the dictatorship.
The Brotherhood, in contrast, have been the biggest beneficiaries of the military’s handling of the transition. Elections held over the past two months gave them just under half of parliament’s seats, making them the country’s predominant political bloc. More radical Islamists, the Salafis, won a quarter of the seats.
The Islamists’ strength was on display Wednesday in Tahrir, which was the symbolic heart of the 18-day wave of protests against Muabrak that began Jan. 25, 2011. A large Brotherhood podium blared speeches through 10 loudspeakers to the crowds, with one speaker proclaiming that Egyptians must defend their countries against “enemies” who want to strike Islam.
Brotherhood loyalists were chanting religious songs and shouting, “Allahu Akbar,” or God is great. The group, whose cadres are known as the most disciplined in Egypt’s politics, largely claimed the job of policing security in the square, checking IDs and searching the bags of those flocking to join the rally.
In contrast, liberals on the other side of the square were chanting, “Down, down with military rule,” and demanding that Tantawi, Mubarak’s defense minister for nearly 20 years, be executed for the deaths of protesters killed in crackdowns against their movement in recent months.
“Tantawi, come and kill more revolutionaries, we want your execution,” they chanted, alluding to the more than 80 protesters killed by army troops since October. Thousands of civilians, many of them protesters, have been hauled before military tribunals for trial since Mubarak’s ouster.
“We are not here to celebrate. We are here to bring down military rule. They have failed the revolution and met none of its goals,” said Iman Fahmy, a 27-year-old pharmacist who wore a paper eye-patch in solidarity with protesters shot in the eye by security forces during recent protests.
Fahmy was among several thousand protesters led by pro-reform leader Mohamed ElBaradei who marched from a neighborhood on the west bank of the river Nile. They entered Tahrir Square to the somber beat of drums to mark the deaths of protesters the past year — and to underline that this was not a day of celebration, given the many unrealized demands of the revolution.
Other marches by tens of thousands streamed in from other parts of the city as well. Many wore masks depicting the faces of slain protesters, chanting, “Down with military rule.”
Unlike many of the demonstrators, ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace laureate, said that the immediate return of the military to the barracks was not a top priority.
“I don’t think that is the issue right now. What we need to agree on is how to exactly achieve the revolution’s goals starting by putting down a proper democratic constitution, fixing the economy, security and independent judiciary and media and making sure the people who have killed those people are prosecuted,” he told The Associated Press.
There were no army troops or police in Tahrir Square, a sign the military was looking to avoid an eruption of new clashes after bloody violence between the two sides in November and December.
Liberal and left-leaning groups behind Mubarak’s ouster say the generals have left the old regime largely in place. They say that the Brotherhood has tacitly accepted this, concentrating its efforts on winning parliamentary seats rather than working for the realization of the uprising’s goals — social justice, democracy and freedom.
“You have the parliament, the marshal (Tantawi) is in power and the revolutionaries are in prison,” a man shouted at a Brotherhood supporter carrying the blue flag of the group’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party.
The Brotherhood has largely stayed out of anti-military protests in recent months and focused on the election campaign. The new, 508-seat parliament held its inaugural session on Monday, with a Brotherhood leader sworn in as speaker. Liberals and independents garnered under 10 percent of the seats.
But the liberal and leftist groups maintain that the revolution must continue until remnants of Mubarak’s 29-year regime are removed from public life and government, and until those responsible for the killing of protesters are brought to justice. Mubarak himself is on trial, along with his former security chief and several other security officers, on charges of killing protesters. Mubarak and his two sons are also on trial for corruption.
“I am not here to celebrate. I am here for a second revolution,” said Attiya Mohammed Attiya, a 35-year-old father of four children who is unemployed. “The military council is made of remnants of the Mubarak regime. We will only succeed when we remove them from power.”
“We are the political force that paid the heaviest price,” said Alaa Mohammed, a teacher and Brotherhood supporter. “Thanks to the military council, we had the cleanest elections ever, and the military protected the revolution.”
The ruling generals have declared Jan. 25 a national holiday to mark the occasion. Previously, Jan. 25 was Police Day, an occasion selected by pro-reform groups to launch their uprising a year ago, in part to protest decades of institutional torture and abuse by the hated police force. Also to mark the occasion, Tantawi partially lifted decades-old emergency laws that gave police far reaching powers. He also decreed the release of hundreds of civilians convicted and sentenced to jail terms by military tribunals.
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