Thousands of activists gathered in Tahrir Square on Friday to protest against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Dubbed the “Friday of Reclaiming the Revolution,” the demonstration saw the square once again taken over by vendors, makeshift stages, and, in between the two, roaming groups of activists carrying signs and banners that ranged from witty to bizarre.
And apparently Sean Penn was there.
While many of the demonstrators present vocally condemned the ruling military council’s recent decision to extend the state of emergency following the 9 September raid of the Israeli Embassy, the overwhelming majority of those present in the square expressed their outright rejection of the concept of military rule as a whole. This was reflected in the fact that most of the chants repeated throughout the day directly criticized Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, as opposed to particular SCAF policies. One banner popular with Friday’s activists proclaimed, “It doesn’t matter if you’re wearing a suit or a pair of boxers, we reject your rule” – a reference to Tantawi’s recent downtown Cairo stroll in civilian attire, interpreted by many as an attempt to pave the way for long-term “civilian” rule.
“We reject military rule now, and we always have,” explained Mirale Mohamed Hashem, 42, who attended the demonstration with her two younger children. “This is not why we revolted. The goal of the revolution was to get rid of a tyrannical, oppressive regime, not to replace it with a new one.”
Despite the enthusiasm of those present, the day’s turnout fell short of expectations. “True, this is not the million-man gathering we all hoped it would be,” Hashem agreed. “But the solution isn’t to give up and go home, it’s to call everyone you know and explain to them how essential it is that they be here now.”
Besides the renewal of the Emergency Law and the continuation of the transitional period that the SCAF had announced would end in September, demonstrators also protested against the “negligence” with which they claim the military has treated civilians, in particular with workers like teachers and public transportation drivers who have been striking for the past week.
“Why are there still so many people on strike, despite having simple, reasonable demands? Why is Prime Minister Essam Sharaf being so slow and indecisive, and choosing his ministers at random?” asked Intissar Ghareeb, an anchorwoman for Al-Shabab wal Reyada radio station, who claims she was beaten by military officers on 26 April inside the state-owned radio and television broadcasting station, Maspiro.
“The military refuses to respect the will of millions who took to the streets and risked their lives so that they could live in dignity. When members of the former regime are still allowed to form and join political parties, how can anyone try to convince us that the revolution hasn’t been hijacked by those who were opposed to it?” she demanded to know.
“There is no doubt that there are people out there determined to sabotage the revolution, and punish the revolutionaries,” insisted television personality Abdel Rahman Youssef, who was also in attendance at the “Friday of Reclaiming the Revolution.”
“There are also those attempting to sway public opinion against the revolution, to make it seem like a mistake,” Youssef claimed. “But we cannot blame the revolution for problems like the current economic state or security void. The country has a ruling party, and the blame should fall on them, as well as the hundreds of corrupt businessmen and politicians still trying to undermine the uprising.”
Carrying a sign that read, simply: “The revolution continues,” engineer Shihab al-Nawawy explained, “We’re here today because we’re sick of the way things are. It’s been eight months now since Mubarak stepped down, and what has changed? There has not been any significant progress, and we’re still dealing with the same mentality and policies that characterized the Mubarak regime.”
Campaigning alongside Nawawy, engineer Hoda Salah Abdel Hamid believes that while the military is responsible for the current state of turmoil, civilians are not completely free of blame themselves. “Everyone is blaming the government for not doing enough, but there are things the people can do for themselves; the simplest example would be picking up the trash that’s all over the place. But as a people, we have become coddled and over-dependent.”
Nawawy also expressed his concern at the growing rift between the military and civilians. “There is no dialogue with the military, they do not reach out to the people, and we’re still being kept in the dark.”
“We want the SCAF to know that there will not be a repeat of 1954; we won’t let it become one. The people are too aware now, but besides that, it’s an entirely different situation. In 1954, the people had a unifying figure in Gamal Abdel Nasser. We don’t have such a figure today, and if Tantawi thinks he qualifies as one, he’s delusional.”
“If Tantawi tries to take over [as a long-term ruler of Egypt],” Nawawy said, “it will be the beginning of the end.”