By Heba Fahmy
CAIRO: Tens of thousands of protesters poured into major squares in cities around Egypt on Friday, reasserting their stance that the revolution continues until demands are met and justice is served for the martyrs.
Protesters packed Tahrir Square well into the evening on what was dubbed “Persistence Friday” or “Revolution First Friday,” calling for the fair and swift prosecution of those responsible for killing and injuring peaceful protesters.
In scenes reminiscent of the early days of the January 25 uprising, and in one of the most organized and ideologically all-encompassing turnouts in months, Egyptians reiterated a clear message that the revolution is not over until the regime with all its affiliated officials has fallen.
Organization committee youth manned the entrances of Tahrir Square, the symbolic heart of the revolution, thoroughly searching protesters and checking IDs to prevent thugs or weapons from entering.
Two thugs were caught smuggling jagged swords into the square, according to media reports. They were beaten and questioned by protesters.
Street vendors were scattered around the square, providing sun-scorched protesters with cold beverages, food and the hottest commodity of all, Egyptian flags in all sizes.
Protesters from outside of Cairo joined Tahrir from Ismailia, Fayoum, Aswan and Suez.
As national songs played in the background and Egyptian flags fluttered and were carried around the square, many protesters said they felt the regime has not been truly toppled.
Among the demands was purging the interior ministry of corruption and that it be restructured, ending military trials of civilians and setting a reasonable minimum and maximum wage.
“Security forces are still the same as before, full of corruption and antagonism against the people,” said Mohamed Abdel Qawi, 33, who traveled from Fayoum to participate in the Tahrir protests.
“Security forces are the ones who encourage the thugs to cause chaos in the country and attack peaceful protesters,” Abdel Qawi added, referring to the recent clashes that erupted between protesters and police forces on June 28-29, leaving 1,114 injured, according to the Ministry of Health.
An official fact-finding committee found that the clashes were premeditated by thugs.
“The police reacted as if they had a vendetta against us,” Ramadan Hussein, 41, said from his tent in Tahrir, where many are gearing up for an open-ended sit-in until demands are met.
While some protesters only criticized the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), others demanded power be handed over to a presidential council.
“I had little faith in the army to begin with and now I believe that it’s complicit with officials of the former corrupt regime and the officers who killed our martyrs,” Abdel Qawi said. “We will stay here until SCAF heeds our demands.”
Yasmine Mohamed, 25, said the army should return to its barracks and protect the country’s borders while a presidential council rules the country during this transitional phase.
Protesters questioned the integrity of Egypt’s judiciary due to the slow trials of former officials accused of corruption and a court decision to release former minister of information Anas El-Fiqqi, among others.
A main impetus behind the July 8 protests is that justice be served for martyrs of the revolution after a number of policemen being tried for killing peaceful protesters were released on LE 10,000 bail in Suez earlier this week.
“The courts’ recent verdicts have come as a shock to us all,” said Gawda Khairat, 40.
Outrage in Suez resounded across the country as stories emerged about families of the victims being pressured and paid to drop their cases. Protesters on Friday demanded rights for both the martyrs’ families as well as those injured during the early days of the revolution.
“We demand the punishment of those who killed our children,” Azza Mansour, who came from Ismailia with her daughter, said. “Our children’s blood won’t be shed in vain,” she added.
Ousted president Hosni Mubarak and former interior minister Habib El-Adly are being investigated for these charges, as well as security administrators, high-ranking officers and policemen in several governorates.
Some protesters were torn on whether to join the sit-in or return homes in the evening.
Mohamed El-Zayyat, 26, said that every Egyptian can help build the country in the way they see fit. “Some Egyptians can focus on our economy, others can fight politically and legally for our rights,” El-Zayyat said from his tent in Tahrir, “while we can hold an open sit-in to pressure SCAF.”
However, Ahmed Mohamed, 64, disagreed saying that people should return to their homes and jobs to keep the economy moving.
Tens of tents were set up in the gardens around the square. Some had been there since the evening of June 29 after the clashes, while others joined a couple of days ago.
An independent group of youth distributed a questionnaire titled “What does Tahrir want?” comprised of 13 questions regarding the revolution and the upcoming government and political system.
The questions include the responsibilities of the army, the upcoming president and the People’s Assembly. The group printed 20,000 questionnaires, according to one of the organizers, Islam Safeyy Eldin.
Voters’ fingers were marked with permanent ink after submitting the questionnaire in a transparent plastic box.
“I want to say my opinion about what’s happening in this country even if it won’t affect the current government,” Medhat Ramadan, 29, told DNE.
The Youth for Freedom and Justice Movement also distributed a questionnaire near the American University in Cairo, with three questions, asking what people thought of the SCAF’s performance since it was handed over power on Feb 12, what demands pushed them to come to Tahrir as well as their evaluation of the mass protest. The group printed half a million copies.
“We want to know the people’s opinion and announce it to the world,” one of the organizers, Ahmed Samir, said.
Many independent and parallel unions and syndicates were present, calling for the disbandment of the official workers’ union which they feel is unrepresentative and is affiliated with the former regime.
Banners against head of the Central Auditing Agency Gawdat El-Malt were hung in the square as calls for the independence of the judiciary, purging all ministries of corrupt leadership, and the cleansing of state media resonated.