CAIRO: A crowd of anti-military activists suddenly converged on a bustling Cairo boulevard, erecting makeshift screens and showing videos of soldiers beating protesters, dragging women on the ground, partially stripping one and stomping on her chest. Their message: The generals ruling Egypt have to go.
The activists who led the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak last year have been holding hundreds of so-called flash mobs around the country, in a campaign they call "Liars." By showing people recent abuses by the military, they say they have injected new public support for their demand that the generals quickly surrender power.
But it also raises questions.
"What do they want?" one passer-by, Mohammed Ali, asked at one such gathering this week.
"Even if [the military] are liars… we are going to get power transferred to civilians in six months. That is not bad," the 30-year-old said. "It doesn’t deserve all this noise. Let’s wait and see."
Wednesday marks the first anniversary of the start of the 18-day wave of protests that toppled Mubarak. Activists are trying to turn public discontent over lack of change into support for continuing revolutionary protests. But they face the task of explaining to Egyptians who are sick of turmoil: Revolution for what?
The revolution’s second year, the activists say, must pressure both the ruling military, which they maintain is as authoritarian as Mubarak, and the Muslim Brotherhood, which dominates the new parliament and which they fear is allying itself with the generals.
The anniversary shows the tensions. Each of the country’s power brokers has its own plans to mark the day, underlining the stark differences over the very meaning of the revolution and raising the potential for a clash. State and pro-military media blare warnings that the protesters aim to "burn the country," raising concerns over a crackdown.
The activists are organizing new nationwide protests for the occasion. Thousands rallied in Tahrir Square on Friday, kicking off what they say will be several days of demonstrations, including Monday when parliament convenes and on the Wednesday anniversary.
The military has put together its own elaborate Jan. 25 celebrations, declaring the day a national holiday. It plans a nationwide air show, including flyovers by warplanes that it boasts will be bigger than those it holds for anniversaries of the 1952 coup that first brought the generals to the helm of Egyptian politics. Other planes will drop gift coupons to the public. Officers will be decorated for their role helping the anti-Mubarak protests.
The military’s message is that it supported the anti-Mubarak uprising, but the time for revolution is over.
"Stability is the first goal," said Maj. Gen. Ismail Etman, a member of the military council that took power after Mubarak’s Feb. 11 fall. "If there is tension between the people and the armed forces, it must be removed … We want the big family to enjoy love and stability."
For the activists and many others in Egypt, the army celebrations aim to co-opt their movement.
"We are not going down to celebrate, we are going to finish our revolution," activist Ahmed Imam said at a news conference by youth movements this week. "We will not celebrate while the blood of martyrs is shed without retribution. … We will not celebrate, because they are liars."
Critics say the military is keeping the status quo with a slight reshuffle of the cards but with the same authoritarianism and abuses by security forces, if not worse. They point to almost 100 protesters killed in military crackdowns since Mubarak’s fall, some run over by armored vehicles. Nearly 12,000 civilians have been tried by military tribunals, and female protesters have been subjected to humiliating "virginity tests."
They say the revolution’s vision of "freedom, social justice and dignity" has been aborted in favor of an emerging ruling coalition between the Islamists and the military.
The difficulty for the activists is that a transition plan is in place, set by the generals and backed by the Brotherhood.
The military promises to transfer power to an elected civilian president by the end of June. Before that, a constitution is to be written by a committee chosen by the Islamist-controlled parliament while the generals are still in charge.
Brotherhood officials deny any alliance with the military. They say they want the army to step down, but maintain parliament not protests can ensure they do so. They warn protesters endanger the process by creating turmoil.
Ahmed Abou Baraka, a leading Brotherhood member, said the revolution against Mubarak aimed "to grant the people sovereignty and build a state based on the rule of law."
Protests must be "within the law and …uphold the higher interests of the state," he said.
The "Liars" campaign — "Kazeboon" in Arabic — has been a new way for revolutionaries to reach out to a skeptical public.
Hundreds of impromptu street shows highlighting military abuses have been put on around the country in past weeks, sometimes more than 10 a day. The campaign has mobilized thousands of volunteers, a sign of the activists’ increasing reach, said Rasha Azab, an organizer.
"Kazeboon is a bridge between the street and the square … They are now seeing that Tahrir is no longer the only expression of the revolution," she said. "They cornered us in the square. Now there are 50 squares."
Many of the gatherings have been harassed by hecklers the activists believe are hired. At this week’s flash mob in Cairo’s Mohandiseen district, young men tried to disrupt the show. One shouted that the screen and video projectors had to be packed up in five minutes. Across the street, another yelled, "Down with revolution."
Still, the activists’ plan for the future remains hazy. They want the military to step aside, but are divided about whether it should hand executive powers to the parliament, a president or to a council of civilians.
Some fear handing power to the parliament would further strengthen the Brotherhood.
"We would replace a tyrant with no popularity and a corrupt majority, with a tyrant supported by religious legitimacy and an organized majority," said Abdel-Gelil El-Sharnoubi, a former Brotherhood member who since last year’s revolution has become a fervent opponent.
Ahmed Maher, of the April 6 Youth Movement, counters that it is the best tactic to draw the Brotherhood away from the military.
"They are civilians. We will argue with them, negotiate, fight, whatever," said Maher. "But with the military council, they will drive over us with armored vehicles."
Despite disagreements, the activists’ main intention remains to use street pressure for the long haul.
"It is hard … [but] we are creating a new country, we are creating the future," said Lobna Darwish, an activist with Mosireen, a media collective that produces most Kazeboon videos. "It is not even a choice — when you see people die … you feel this is a commitment to go on."
At the Kazeboon rally, Mostafa Aboul Wafa parked his motorcycle and joined the crowd. He intends to attend the activists’ anniversary rallies, his first ever protest.
Nothing has changed under the military, the 26-year-old delivery man said, pointing to a recent bribe he had to pay to get his motorcycle licensed.
"The military council has no shame," he said. "I will go with what these people are saying."