Return to Tahrir Square: Egypt erupts in protest

Demonstrators demand government action and Mubarak on trial
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The Independent Online

Hundreds of thousands of protesters packed into Cairo's Tahrir Square yesterday for one of the biggest anti-government demonstrations since Hosni Mubarak was toppled in February.

As suspicions over the conduct of the ruling military council continued to simmer, crowds of people surged into the iconic Downtown plaza in scenes not witnessed on a similar scale since the deposed leader was ousted nearly five months ago. The rally was boosted by the official support of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest political organisation, which until now has refused to take part in most of the protests that have happened since February. A large number of the country's other political groups and parties also backed the rally.

There were similar protests across the country, including in the northern Mediterranean city of Alexandria. But it was in Tahrir Square where the greatest numbers gathered. Tens of thousands of men, women and children arrived throughout the day carrying Egyptian flags and banners, and by the afternoon central Cairo was awash in a sea of street vendors, tents and ebullient slogans.

The protest, which came after several days of violent disorder in Cairo and the city of Suez, was a response to fears that the ruling military council is failing to punish those responsible for abuses of power during the uprising which led to Mr Mubarak's ouster.

Activists point out that only a single policeman has been found guilty in connection with the deaths of more than 800 protesters earlier this year, while last month a judge suspended the trial of Habib el-Adly, the widely loathed former Interior Minister accused of ordering police to open fire on civilians.

Mohammad Hanifa, a 22-year-old IT worker, was one of the many thousands of demonstrators in Tahrir Square yesterday. As loudspeakers from a nearby stage crackled to the strains of revolutionary song, he explained that he and other protesters wanted to see Hosni Mubarak on trial.

"He is not better than me," he said. "He is not better than anyone here. All the people here today want to see him in court."

Mr Mubarak, along with his two sons, is due to stand trial on August 3. There have been numerous reports that the former president is in bad health, but many Egyptians believe the ruling generals are using this as a ruse to scupper the impending hearing.

According to Baher Taher, an accountant who also attended Tahrir Square yesterday, the ruling military council is "going too slowly" in its reforms.

The 25-year-old accountant added: "What they are doing is not enough for the revolution. The president is gone but the regime is still in place." In a bid to take the sting out of today's nationwide rallies, the Interior Ministry announced earlier in the week that hundreds of senior policemen would be sacked over their alleged roles in the killing of protesters during Egypt's uprising.

Tens of thousands of people also gathered elsewhere across the country yesterday, including in Alexandria, Sharm el-Sheikh and Ismailia on the Suez Canal.

Muslim Brotherhood member Khalid Dawood, who attended the protest in Alexandria, said the Brotherhood – which in recent months has been plagued by internal splits and squabbles – was persuaded to attend because it was worried about the ruling military council's lack of transparency.

He added: "It's a good decision. Before we didn't want to join protests with other groups, but today we decided we should share the protest with them."