May 28, 2018
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Egyptians pour into Tahrir Square in celebration, protest

By Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times

CAIRO — Tens of thousands of Egyptians poured into Tahrir Square in celebration and protest Wednesday, the anniversary of the revolution that brought down President Hosni Mubarak and set the nation on a troubled and still unfulfilled path toward democracy.

Songs of joy and shouts of anger echoed across the now fabled square as two Egypts born of a single revolt unfurled opposing banners beneath clear skies: one reveling in a tyrant’s overthrow and the free election of a new parliament, the other cursing the ruling army for crushing dissent and betraying the spirit of the revolution.

“Egyptians discovered themselves in this revolution,” said Sami Mkheimar, a teacher. “We toppled the symbols of corruption that ruled this country. For the first time in history we elected a parliament that represents all of society. These are great achievements.”

Not far away, in another camp, Khaled Ahmed, draped in a flag, was more bitter than festive.

“We want civilian rule. We want dignity, freedom and social justice. The brutality against the people must stop,” said Ahmed, a tour guide who hasn’t worked in the year since his industry collapsed because of the country’s unrest. “Women dragged in streets, protesters beaten — these are not signs the military is planning to step aside.”

The ancient touchstone of the Arab world whose 18-day revolution last year inspired uprisings across the region, Egypt is a mirror blurred with competing ambitions and differing national dreams. There are victors — the army and the Muslim Brotherhood — and, at least for now, losers — young revolutionaries who helped ignite the uprising but had no means to channel street credibility into power.

The day was tinged with deepening concerns over joblessness, poverty and economic turmoil. There was also anger over the slow pace of bringing Mubarak and his regime to justice. The former president is on trial for complicity in the deaths of hundreds of demonstrators, and Egyptians say the revolt’s martyrs must be honored with a conviction.

Along these fault lines runs wariness among liberals over the relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood and the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. The Brotherhood, once the country’s most potent opposition, controls 47 percent of parliament and has tempered its criticism of the army. It has agreed to the military’s timeline of transferring power to a civilian government after a president is elected in June.

Mohamed Mustapha complained that the Brotherhood, which he worries wants to create an Islamic state, and the military have grown too cozy. Brotherhood members were out in force, giving speeches and running security.

“The square is divided,” he said. “The Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamists are here to attract the energy for their own political interests. On the other side are the liberals. We want freedom and dignity and an immediate end to military rule.”

By mid-afternoon, new surges filled the square as marches led by young activist groups streamed out of neighborhoods and mosques and swelled along the Nile. Many of them were involved in the protests in November and December, when scores of people were killed in battles with soldiers and riot police. As night fell, some groups were planning a sit in, a move likely to draw a confrontation with authorities.

“New clashes may be inevitable between the revolutionaries and the military,” said Ibrahim Fahmy, an agricultural engineer. “And the Brotherhood will be holding the stick in the middle trying to protect its gains.”

But there was little hint of violence as fathers carried sons in their arms and young men climbed atop street lights, waving flags and chanting amid speeches crackling from loudspeakers and the flapping pictures of martyrs. The scenes were reminiscent of one year ago, but different — the police and army were not in sight, and nostalgia and wonder replaced the vigilance and hurled stones of revolt.

A man walked through the crowd holding the scales of justice in one hand and a hangman’s noose in the other — a message no doubt for Mubarak and his co-defendant and former interior minister, Habib Adli. Yet Mubarak’s legacy haunted; his former ruling party’s headquarters loomed blackened and broken over the square.

A day earlier, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the head of the military council, went on TV to rally the nation. Last year, after soldiers took power, the slogan “the army and the people are one” reverberated across the country. This year that affinity, although harbored by many, has diminished.

“Down, down with the military.”

“The people want the execution of the field marshal.”

Such were the chants Wednesday near protest tents in the center of the square, where caricatures of the generals were anything but kind. Mothers of martyrs wept and activists seethed. But not far away, in another camp, the army, which hours earlier pardoned and released nearly 2,000 civilians tried in military tribunals, had its friends.

“We are here to celebrate what was achieved and stress what’s yet to be accomplished,” said Ahmed Beheiry, a student at Al Azhar University. “The military will cede power as planned but their presence at the moment is important. They are protecting the country more than actually ruling it.”

Alaa Aswany, renowned novelist and one of the country’s most defiant voices, did not see it that way. He stood on a stage, looked down upon a sea of flags and restless faces, and lifted a microphone.

“We can’t celebrate the revolution until the day the martyrs get their justice and until we feel Egypt is becoming a real democracy.”

Amro Hassan of the Times’ Cairo bureau contributed to this report.

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