One year on, protesters are still demanding freedoms in the square that became a byword for the Arab Spring. Shahira Amin reports
It started as a day of celebration, with tens of thousands of Egyptians converging on Tahrir Square to mark the first anniversary of Egypt’s revolution, 25 January. The morning crowd — dominated by bearded Islamists — waved flags and strolled peacefully in the Square — flashpoint of the eighteen day uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak last year.
One year to the day pro-democracy activists held mass protests, and the mood in Tahrir yesterday was one of jubilation and fanfare. Two days earlier, Egypt’s first democratically elected parliament convened for the first time, pledging to work to fulfil the goals of the revolution — including securing justice for the families of those killed and victims of violence during last year’s mass uprising; a key demand of the revolutionary movements. The Islamist-dominated People’s Assembly, the lower house of the parliament, also made it clear that the military council running Egypt in the transitional period would face close scrutiny from the newly elected lawmakers.
Meanwhile, in an effort to appease a disgruntled public ahead of protests marking the anniversary of the Revolution, the military council announced the release of 1,959 political detainees, most of them pro-democracy activists who had faced military trials . Prominent blogger Maikel Nabil, Egypt’s first prisoner of conscience in the post-revolutionary era, was among the convicts to be set free. The military authority also said it would lift the state of emergency in place since 1981. It added however that the law would continue to apply in cases of ‘thuggery’. Skeptics worry that the exception may be a pretext for continuing arbitrary arrests and detention of civilians without charge, especially as peaceful protesters have been previously described by military generals as “trouble-makers” and “paid agents carrying out foreign agendas.”
Uncertainty about the future failed to dampen the mood in Tahrir Square, as Islamists celebrated the achievements of the past year, relishing their newfound freedom and leadership role. The Muslim Brotherhood — a long time banned group in Egypt won 38 per cent of parliamentary seats for their Freedom and Justice Party in the recent election. The ultra-conservative Salafist Nour Party meanwhile secured 29 per cent of the list seats.
“We voted them in and now they will take care of our demands,” Manal Hassan , a veiled housewife and mother of three said confidently.
It wasn’t until early afternoon when thousands more protesters — mostly secularists and liberals — converged on Tahrir after marching through the streets from various focal points in the city — that the mood began to shift from celebratory to rebellious. Seeking a new revolt against military rule, the activists began to chant “Down with military rule!”
“We did not come to Tahrir earlier in the day so as to give the Islamists space to celebrate. But it is too early for us to celebrate. We must continue our struggle. Very few of our goals have been met,” said Amr Taher, a student of commerce. His friends nodded in agreement.
“We have walked all the way from Mostafa Mahmoud in Mohandeseen to make our demands clear. We want the military to handover power to a civilian government now,” said advertising agency employee Amina Mansour, 28.
Many liberals feel that little has changed since Mubarak was toppled and say the old regime is still intact. Listing rights violations including military trials for more than 12,000 civilians in the past year, torture in prisons, virginity checks performed on female protesters and intimidation of journalists. Reem Dawoud, activist and member of the “Kazeboon” campaign, launched “to expose the lies of the ruling military council” noted, “A year on, we are still waiting for a free press and an independent judiciary!”
“El Qassas! El Qassas! Justice for the martyrs and their families! ” shouted an elderly activist from the podium, his cries met with cheers and clapping from the crowd below. Before nightfall, an estimated 150,000 protesters had gathered in the Square, sending a strong message to the military authority that “the fear barrier has been broken” and “the rulers are now accountable to their people for the first time ,” as expressed by some Facebook-users in their posts later in the day.
As Egyptians start their second post-revolution year, they are optimistic about the future. “The power is now in the hands of the people for the first time,” author Alaa Aswani said in a televised interview. Confident in their ability to create change, they know it is a matter of time before the military is pushed back to the barracks and power is transferred to a civilian government. And they are hoping for a faster pace of reforms and successful transition to democracy.
“We went off-course for a while this past year because of lack of unity among liberal movements and their inability to reach consensus on the way forward. But now, we seem to have found our way again and are moving on the right track,” said 35 year-old activist Hazem Mahmoud , with a broad smile on his face.
Journalist and television anchor Shahira Amin resigned her post as deputy head of state-run Nile TV on February 2011