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Massive protests greet anniversary of Egypt’s revolution

Crowd marks year since revolution

- - Wednesday, January 25, 2012

CAIRO Hundreds of thousands of people marched Wednesday into Tahrir Square to mark the first anniversary of Egypt's revolution, as many shouted their outrage at the military council that took over after Hosni Mubarak stepped down as president in February.

The crowds divided roughly into opposing factions in the square, which was the focal point of protests during the 18-day revolution that began on Jan. 25 last year.

Supporters of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, which dominates the new parliament that convened Monday, say the revolution has succeeded and the time for protests has passed.

In another part of the square, liberal and secular groups, which largely propelled the Egyptian revolution, accused the military council of perpetuating Mr. Mubarak's authoritarian rule.

The square was so packed by 3 p.m. that people who tried to enter it had to detour to adjacent open spaces. The scene was reminiscent of the crowds that turned out to celebrate when Mr. Mubarak resigned.

Countless people wore yellow stickers that read: "No to a constitution with a military junta in charge." They held photographs of demonstrators killed in protests against Mr. Mubarak or against the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

On the backs of their heads, many protesters wore masks of Ahmad Harara, a blinded demonstrator who has become a symbol of Egypt's unrest.

A 31-year-old dentist, Mr. Harara lost one eye when security forces shot him with a rubber bullet in a January protest against Mr. Mubarak. He lost his other eye to a rubber bullet in a November protest against the military council.

Hundreds of shouting Egyptians flanked two 50-foot-long Egyptian flags as they crossed the Kasr Al Nile Bridge toward Tahrir Square.

"This is a revolution, not a celebration," a massive group chanted as it entered the square.

Once hailed as the protectors of the revolution, the military council, led by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, is accused of cracking down violently against protesters and arresting thousands without due process under the infamous emergency law.

More than 840 people were killed in the revolution against Mr. Mubarak, and about 100 have died in protests against the military council.

The emergency law, in force since President Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981, gives authorities the power to detain suspects without charges and try them before special security courts without appeal.

"We basically replaced one Hosni Mubarak with 19 Hosni Mubaraks," said U.S.-Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy, referring to the 19 members of the military council. "So the revolution continues until we are completely free."

During a protest in November, security forces arrested Ms. Eltahawy and held her for 12 hours. Her left arm and right hand were broken, and she was sexually assaulted.

At a demonstration Monday that coincided with the first session of the new parliament, she sent a Twitter message about her ordeal.

"I don't know if any of riot police [at the demonstration] were ones who broke my arm/hand, sexually assaulted me, but I wanted them to know I was back," she said.

The military council has promised to relinquish power after presidential elections in June, but critics contend that the army will do whatever it takes to hold on to power to protect its economic interests.

Egypt has been ruled by military officers since 1952, and the army has amassed billions of dollars through private enterprises. It controls as much as $60 billion in revenue, representing about 30 percent of the country's gross domestic product.

On Tuesday night, Field Marshal Tantawi announced that the emergency law would be lifted for Wednesday's commemoration, except in cases of what he called "thuggery."

Activists and protesters said a loophole allows security forces to arrest anyone on that ill-defined charge.

"This doesn't change anything. They can basically detain anyone and say, 'He's a thug,'" said Heba Morayef, a researcher in Egypt and Libya for Human Rights Watch.

"This just shows that the military is worried about the protests and is trying the calm public anger. They want to hold on to the discretion to use the emergency law when they please, because it gives them a tool to crack down."

One of the most well-known protesters detained by the military council, Maikel Nabil, was released from prison Tuesday along with thousands of others.

He was arrested in March and sentenced to three years by a military court for insulting the army. Mr. Nabil went on a hunger strike to protest his incarceration.

He was too weak to make the trek to Tahrir Square on Wednesday, so he uploaded a video of himself on YouTube.

"My release," he told the camera, "does not mean that the regime has changed. It does not mean that Egypt now has democracy and freedom of expression.

"We are dealing with a corrupt, unjust, bloody political regime, and we cannot be silent about it, not for one more day."