MORE than a million people are expected to descend upon Tahrir Square in Cairo and its surrounding streets tomorrow (Friday) after noon prayer to maintain pressure on the authorities to implement their demands for change and to speed up the trials of former members of Mubarak’s regime.
A sense of excitement and anticipation can be felt sweeping the capital as people prepare themselves for what is billed as the biggest demonstration since the revolution began in January.
Throughout the week a steadily increasing number of tents have appeared around the square joining the half dozen that have become a permanent fixture since February with a stage being built for speakers. Every night this week hundreds of people have gathered amid a jubilant atmosphere although countered with the acknowledgement there is much work to be done.
The largely young revolutionaries are unhappy they have seen little improvement in their lives and with the delays in dealing with those responsible for killing more than 840 protesters during the uprising, between January 25 and February 11, and corruption.
Fears over clashes between demonstrators and security forces have been partially alleviated after it was announced the police, hated for the years of violence and brutality they dished out, would keep their distance. However, permanently guarded government buildings, the scene of a number of recent clashes, are a only a short walk away.
Concerns over further attacks by so-called ‘thugs’ also exist after groups of unknown men with batons and knives, who have been described as pro-Mubarak supporters, former prisoners let out of jail or just plain thugs, have attacked peaceful protesters most recently on June 28.
Clearly not everyone is behind the ongoing protests and marches through the busy streets of Cairo. Apart from the perceived inconvenience and intimidation from large groups of youths, tourism, the country’s biggest source of income has dropped significantly.
Activists have been told ‘go home now, the revolution is over’. But such comments are likely to fall on deaf ears with an emboldened and determined youth promising to stay in Tahrir until their dreams are achieved.
There were scuffles in a court in Cairo yesterday as a judge bailed seven policeman, previously held on charges of killing demonstrators in Suez during the uprising. Later activists and the families of those who died blocked the main road between Cairo and the canal-side city with a sit-in.
And there were further clashes outside court last week after former Minister of the Interior Habibi al-Adly’s, responsible for the country’s hated police and security forces, trial was postponed again.
But with 40 per cent unemployment, rising to 55 per cent for 15 to 24-year-olds, and widespread poverty it is jobs, an improvement on the minimum wage and better state education (20 per cent of over-15-year-olds are illiterate) that is uniting the nation after decades of suffering under President Mubarak.
Mubarak, who is allegedly recovering from an illness in the popular tourist resort of Sharm El-Sheik, ruled for 30 years surrounded by cronies implementing disastrous liberal economic policies managed by his son Gamal and ministers, many of whom are now up on corruption charges.
Since his overthrow on February 11 a transitional government has been running the country on a day-to-day basis overseen by the army’s ruling body the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
Both parliamentary and presidential elections are planned for September but there are fears SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood, who are expected to win a majority of seats, will work together to run the country marginalising secular and leftist parties and giving the new government a religious tilt to the right. However, recent splits in the MB, which have led to expulsions and the creation of four new political parties by former members, have cast doubt on its image of a united and powerful force.
To give new parties a chance many political activists want to see the elections postponed until next year to allow enough time to get the necessary 5,000 signatures to stand and raise money for a campaign.
Mohamed Anwar, who runs a hotel in the Western Desert but has been camped out on Tahrir Square all week, said: “The people didn’t have time to prepare for elections. It is very difficult to make a [political] group in a few months. We woke up after 30 years [of] very bad [life]. We cannot change Egypt in one year.”