Egyptian crowds push for clear democracy plan

Thousands of Egyptians take to the streets around the country to demand justice for victims of Hosni Mubarak's regime and press the new, military rulers for a clear plan of transition to democracy.
Protesters gather in Tahrir square in Cairo on Friday, demanding faster reforms and the swifter prosecution of former officials. (Asmaa Waguih/Reuters)

Thousands of Egyptians took to the streets around the country Friday to demand justice for victims of Hosni Mubarak's regime and press the new, military rulers for a clear plan of transition to democracy.

There is growing frustration among Egyptians that little has changed five months after the 18-day uprising forced the former president to step down on Feb. 11.

Riots and protests have been escalating over what many see as the reluctance of the military rulers, who took over after Mubarak, to prosecute police and former regime officials for the killing of nearly 900 protesters during the uprising.

Many believe that although Mubarak and some much-hated figures under him are no longer in power, the pillars of his regime are still in place, including such key institutions as the judiciary, the police and civil service.

Earlier this week, seven policemen in the city of Suez were freed on bail during their trial for the killing of the protesters. Their release set off two days of rioting by angry families who accused the judiciary of corruption. Other former regime officials were acquitted from corruption charges, also raising the ire of many.

These events provided a rallying point for protesters from a range of pro-democracy and Islamist groups, which have bickered over what they perceive as priorities during the transitional period.

Conservatives also joined protests

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's most organized political group, and ultraconservative Salafis decided at the last minute to join the protests Friday.

In Cairo, thousands converged ahead of Friday prayers on the capital's landmark Tahrir square, the epicenter of the uprising, for the rally dubbed "Friday of Accountability."

Protesters also gathered at main squares in Suez and Alexandria, the two coastal cities which have also witnessed violent clashes between security forces and protesters during the uprising.

In scenes reminiscent of the 18-day uprising, civilian checkpoints were erected around Tahrir to prevent thugs from mixing in with demonstrators and potentially causing violence since there were no police or military in the area.

Banners fluttered in the wind and a large white cloth had the words "Retribution from the killers of martyrs" painted on it.

Flyers read: "Real cleansing. Real government. Real trials."

'Things are going in the wrong direction'   

Justice for victims of the former regime has become a rallying point for the protests but there is also growing disenchantment over what is seen as the military rulers' mismanagement of the transition.

"Things are going in the wrong direction," said Lilian Wagdy, one of the protesters at Tahrir. She said military trials are held for civilians, while trials of security officials are postponed or they get released.

Some protesters are calling for a sit-in to follow the Friday rally until the protesters' demands are met. It was not clear if that would go ahead but dozens of tents were erected in Tahrir.

In an attempt to defuse the Egyptians' anger, a prosecutor on Thursday charged 25 Mubarak-era officials with manslaughter, attempted murder and assault for their part in organizing a February attack on anti-regime protesters in which assailants on horses and camels charged into the crowds.

After Mubarak stepped down, the military rulers promised they would work to hold elections within six months and hand over power to a civilian government.

So far, no election date has been announced and political groups have disagreed over whether elections or a constitution should come first.

The disputes have exhausted Egyptians, who complain that the economic toll of the turmoil will stoke more anger.