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Archive for Saturday, February 12, 2011

Protesters press for voice in Egyptian democracy

February 12, 2011

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— On Egypt’s first day in nearly 30 years without Hosni Mubarak as president, its new military rulers promised Saturday to abide by the peace treaty with Israel and eventually hand power to an elected government. Protesters, still partying over their victory in pushing Mubarak out, now pressed for a voice in guiding their country’s move to democracy.

The protesters’ first act was deeply symbolic of their ambition to build a new Egypt and their determination to do it themselves: Thousands began cleaning up Cairo’s central Tahrir Square, the epicenter of their movement. The sprawling plaza was battered and trashed by 18 days of street battles and rallies by hundreds of thousands.

Even as thousands flowed in to celebrate, broom brigades fanned out, with smiling young men and women — some in stylish clothes and earrings — sweeping up rubble and garbage. Others repaired sidewalks torn apart for concrete chunks to use as ammunition in fighting with pro-regime gangs. Young veiled girls painted the metal railings of fences along the sidewalk. “Sorry for the inconvenience, but we’re building Egypt,” read placards many wore.

“We are cleaning the square now because it is ours,” said Omar Mohammed, a 20-year-old student. “After living here for three weeks, it has become our home ... We’re going to leave it better than before.”

A coalition of youth groups that organized the protests issued their first cohesive list of demands for handling the transition to democracy. Their focus was on ensuring they — not just the military or members of Mubarak’s regime — have a seat at the table in deliberations shaping the future.

Among their demands: lifting of emergency law; creation of a presidential council, made up of a military representative and two “trusted personalities”; the dissolving of the ruling party-dominated parliament; and the forming of a broad-based unity government and a committee to either amend or rewrite completely the constitution.

“The revolution is not over. This is just a beginning. We are working on how to move into a second republic,” said Shady el-Ghazali Harb, the representative on the coalition from one of the youth organizing groups, the Democratic Front.

Protesters were debating whether to lift their 24-hour-a-day demonstration camp in Tahrir. The coalition called for it to end and be replaced by weekly mass demonstrations every Friday to keep pressure on. But many in the square argued to remain. One man on a megaphone encouraged everyone to stay until all their demands were met, while others chanted “the people want the square to be cleared,” referring to public grumbling that the protest camp is disrupting life downtown.

With Mubarak gone, Egypt’s future will likely be shaped by three powers: the military, the protesters, and the sprawling autocratic infrastructure of Mubarak’s regime that remains in place, dominating the bureaucracy, the police, state media and parts of the economy. Right now, the protesters’ intentions are the clearest of the bunch.

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