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EGYPT: A Year On, Tiring of Demonstrations

Adam Morrow and Khaled Moussa al-Omrani

CAIRO, Jan 23 2012 (IPS) - Several revolutionary groups are calling for mass demonstrations against military rule on Wednesday to coincide with the first anniversary of the January 25 uprising that ultimately toppled the Mubarak regime. But many express doubt the event will succeed in replicating last year’s revolutionary fervour on the part of the masses, most of whom express a desire for stability and a smooth transition to democratic governance above all else.

Recent protests at Tahrir have seen a dwindling turnout. Credit: Khaled Moussa al-Omrani/IPS.

Recent protests at Tahrir have seen a dwindling turnout. Credit: Khaled Moussa al-Omrani/IPS.

“I doubt we’ll see another ‘Day of Rage’ like the one we saw last January 25,” Amr Hashem Rabie, expert in political affairs at the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, told IPS. “Much of the public is fed up with demonstrations and is more concerned now with meeting their daily needs.”

In December, dozens of revolutionary movements, including several liberal and leftist parties and groups, began issuing calls for nationwide protests, especially in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, to mark the revolution’s first anniversary. Planned demonstrations are intended to convey one overriding demand: the immediate transfer of power from Egypt’s ruling military council, which has governed the country since Mubarak’s ouster last February, to a civilian authority.

“Revolutionary groups want to see the immediate handover of executive authority from the military council to the speaker of parliament or an interim president, chosen by parliament, who will administer the current transitional period until presidential elections are held and a new constitution is drawn up,” Ahmed Maher, general coordinator of the April 6 youth movement, which played a prominent role in last year’s uprising, told IPS.

Demonstrators also plan to stress other longstanding revolutionary demands, including a halt to the practice of trying civilians in military courts and the release of all activists detained by the military within the last year.

“The movements involved are still debating whether to stage an open-ended sit-in in Tahrir Square in the event that our grievances aren’t addressed,” Maher added.

In an effort to rally the masses behind their cause, revolutionary groups have been waging a nationwide street campaign aimed at raising public awareness about recent abuses committed by military personnel against political demonstrators. In November, dozens of protesters were killed by security forces in five days of clashes in and around Tahrir Square. Similar clashes, if smaller in scope, broke out again in mid- December.

But many Egyptians show little enthusiasm for the planned demonstrations, saying that Egypt’s transition to free electoral politics – a timeline for which has been laid down by the military council – should be allowed to run its course.

“We just held free parliamentary polls for the first time in decades and presidential elections are around the corner,” said 45-year-old taxi driver Ibrahim Sayyed. “I don’t know why these people keep protesting. Constant strikes and demonstrations will only lead to more instability and hurt the already struggling economy.”

“I supported the revolution to oust Mubarak, but we’ve had free elections and the people made their choice,” agreed 35-year-old engineer Mohamed Ashraf. “Those calling for another uprising are promoting chaos and weakening Egypt; they’re putting short-term political interests ahead of the country’s welfare.”

Egypt’s first post-Mubarak parliamentary polls, which wrapped up earlier this month, yielded a landslide victory for Islamist parties that together won more than 75 percent of the vote, ensuring their collective domination of the incoming assembly. Presidential elections are slated for mid-June, after which the military council has repeatedly vowed to relinquish executive authority.

Some revolutionary groups, too, oppose the planned demonstrations. Magdi Sherif, head of the Guardians of the Revolution, a political party established last year, also strenuously disagrees with those demanding an abrupt transfer of power.

“Despite some mistakes, the military council has managed to conduct free parliamentary elections that saw an unprecedented turnout,” Sherif told IPS. “Just because certain political trends – especially those that control most private media – aren’t happy with the results doesn’t mean they should jeopardise the entire electoral process by calling for another uprising.

“The military has certainly committed grave errors, but it has also laid down a clear timetable for the handover of authority,” he added. “If it still refuses to give up power after upcoming elections, then protesters can hit the streets – Tahrir Square will still be there.”

Many Egyptians opposed to Wednesday’s planned demonstrations also say that the country – still reeling from a year of unprecedented political turmoil – is in desperate need of security and stability more than anything else.

“Crime rates are rising (due largely to the nationwide withdrawal of police one year ago) and there are serious shortages of vital commodities such as butane, gasoline, even bread,” said Umm Ismail Ahmed, a 50-year-old housewife and mother of five, who, along with her children, participated in last year’s uprising. “Now we need a degree of calm, at least for a couple months, to deal with domestic problems.”

The ruling military council, meanwhile, plans to mark the revolution’s first anniversary with festivities in Tahrir Square, prompting fears of possible clashes between revolutionaries and celebrators.

The April 6 movement’s Maher, for his part, stressed the peaceful nature of the planned demonstrations. “All of the groups participating in the Tahrir Square protest are taking measures aimed at preventing clashes,” he said, stressing that April 6 members had been instructed to leave the area in the event of violence.

Like other Islamist parties, the Muslim Brotherhood – whose Freedom and Justice Party led in parliamentary polls – has stated its opposition to the scheduled protest. While the group will not participate in scheduled festivities either, it plans to maintain a presence in and around the flashpoint square with the stated aim of providing security.

“There will probably be more people demonstrating than celebrating,” predicted Rabie, “since several main revolutionary demands remain unfulfilled a full year later; since daily conditions still haven’t improved; since corrupt former regime officials still haven’t been prosecuted; and since families of slain protesters still haven’t been compensated.

“But it would be highly unfortunate if the event turned violent,” he added, “since this would only enflame the situation and lead to more chaos – the last thing Egypt needs at this critical juncture.”

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