Egyptians gather in Tahrir Square 1 year later
Anniversary is both a celebration and a continuing protest
Tens of thousands of Egyptians gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square Wednesday to mark the first anniversary of the start of the popular uprising that toppled longtime authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak.
Volunteers checked IDs and conducted searches of the protesters who flocked to the downtown square. As darkness fell thousands remained.
There were no army troops or police in the square, birthplace of the 18-day, anti-Mubarak uprising.
Military generals took over from Mubarak when he stepped down on Feb. 11, 2011. The ousted president is now on trial for his life on charges of complicity in the killing of hundreds of protesters during the uprising. He and his two sons, Alaa and one-time heir apparent Gamal, are facing separate charges of corruption in the same case.
Tahrir Square was packed with different groups of people, including members of the Muslim Brotherhood and those who had lost family members in clashes with security forces, the CBC's Margaret Evans reported from Cairo Wednesday.
"People tell me this is both a celebration and a continuation of the protest against the governing military regime. They want justice for the victims of violence over the past year," she said.
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.
The Islamists' strength was on display Wednesday in Tahrir, which was the symbolic heart of the 18-day wave of protests against Mubarak 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 Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Mubarak's defence minister for nearly 20 years, be executed for the deaths of protesters killed in crackdowns against their movement in recent months.
It was liberal-minded protesters who flooded Tahrir Square one year ago. But now, many of these protesters feel that the revolution has been "hijacked" by the Islamists, who control parliament and will likely form the next government, said the CBC's Sasa Petricic.
"When the revolution started in Tahrir Square, it was led by people who wanted a secular, more liberal Egypt in many ways. The Islamists joined a little bit later in terms of the revolution … so I think that has been one of the things that bothered people the most," he reported from Cairo. "However, they do feel that things are moving forward."
Egypt's military rulers pledged to release more than 1,900 people tried in military courts to mark the first anniversary of the revolution that toppled Mubarak.
Tantawi decreed on national television Tuesday night that the nation's hated emergency laws would be partially lifted on the anniversary day, but said the strict measures will remain applicable to crimes committed by "thugs."
CBC NEWS IS THERE
The CBC's Sasa Petricic, Margaret Evans, Evan Mitsui and Manmeet Ahluwalia are in Egypt for the first anniversary of the start of the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak's regime. Follow their reports on CBCNews.ca, CBC News Network and CBC Radio.
Tantawi's decision to partially lift the decades-old laws, which give police far-reaching powers, will likely not satisfy rights groups that have objected to the repeated use by the military of the term thugs to justify crackdown on protesters.
Angie Balata, an Egyptian-Canadian living in Cairo who participated in the protests during the uprising, said there was still "a lot to fight about" one year later.
"It's been just a lot of chaos, a lot of violence, a lot of sadness, really," Balata told CBC News Network. "I think that the year started off really great with the start of the revolution. But definitely the feeling today, and the feeling that I have personally, is that the revolution continues. We're not close to … having the demands that we wanted to be realized."
Balata said that many protesters had hoped most of the regime would be gone by now.
"Unfortunately, this hasn't happened, and we're not close to it," Balata said from Cairo. "The military has taken over, and that's a lot of the reason why there's a lot of sadness. I mean, a lot of people have died since the revolution. A lot of people are in prison."
But the protests have broken Egypt's long-standing "barrier of fear," she said.
"People do go out on the streets, and they say how they feel and they say their opinions. And they get out and they fight for their rights. And that in itself is one of the greatest accomplishments," Balata said.
Ahmad Nazmi, an Egyptian-Canadian who was part of Wednesday's Cairo protests, rejected the notion that the day had a celebratory tone.
"As far as an anniversary goes, this is not — as people who've been protesting for a year, who started protesting a year ago — a celebration," he told CBC News.
"It has not been a good year," he said. "There is no trust between the revolutionaries and the [military]."
Evans also travelled to Mahalla el-Kubra, a large industrial city a few hours north of Cairo that was the site of anti-government protests back in 2008, which are credited with paving the way for the Arab Spring and the Egyptian revolution.
Modaz Abdul-Hamid, a doctor in Mahalla el-Kubra, told CBC News that residents thought the changes were going to occur immediately after the revolution.
"We thought that it was going the right way, but now, you're not so sure, " he said in Arabic. "Just the president went away. All the other reforms have not happened yet."
With files from The Associated Press