CAIRO: More than 10 marches poured into Tahrir Square on Wednesday, with tens of thousands of protesters calling on the military rulers to hand over power to a civilian authority.
“Nothing has changed under the rule of Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, in fact, things have gotten worse with the military trials,” Ayaat Galal told Daily News Egypt.
Rights groups say around 12,000 civilians have faced military trials since Feb. 11, when the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces took over power form ousted president Hosni Mubarak.
Some protesters said it does not matter who SCAF hands over power to, as long as it is a civilian authority.
“Whether it’s a presidential council or to the head of the People’s Assembly… it doesn’t matter,” said Mohamed Ahmed, 25.
Protesters gathered and marched to Tahrir from districts across the capital, including Isteqama Mosque in Giza, Mostafa Mahmoud Mosque in Mohandiseen, Dawaran Shoubra, Sayeda Zeinab, Imbaba, Higaz Square in Heliopolis, and Rabaa Al-Adaweya Mosque in Nasr City.
The protesters covered the streets from Salah Salem to Dokki and Tahrir voicing one demand, “down with military rule.” In the evening, groups started leaving to the nearby state-TV building, Maspero, a much derided institution.
The march from Giza carried four coffins, draped with the Egyptian flag and martyrs’ pictures, as a symbolic commemoration for the martyrs who died since the revolt.
The Giza march passed by Cairo University and El-Qasr El-Eini where thousands of students joined.
Hani Moustafa, a doctor in El-Qasr El-Einy, was briefly detained by military forces following his arrest at the makeshift hospital set up in-front of the Cabinet during the clashes which took place in December last year.
“Military officers told me to eat my ID cards and when I refused, they beat me on the back with the butt of their guns. I lost consciousness before they released me,” Moustafa said.
Medical students and doctors wore their white coats as they marched towards the iconic square, chanting against SCAF’s brutality towards doctors.
“We were attacked with teargas while we were in the makeshift hospital … during the recent clashes in Mohamed Mahmoud Street and at the Cabinet,” doctor Sarah Habib said of the most recent crackdowns that left over 45 and 19 dead, respectively.
Several marches merged in Galaa Square where they stood in silence for a minute to mourn the martyrs, before heading to Tahrir.
The march that began in Mostafa Mahmoud Square in Mohandiseen was described by some activists as “massive.” It easily stretched the length of Batal Ahmed Street and Tahrir Street, where it moved before reaching the square. For protesters in the middle of the march, it was almost impossible to see where it began and where it ended.
Hussein Allam, 31, stood proudly in Galaa Square wearing a full tuxedo, saying I’m well dressed and ready to face any bullets or tanks.”
Some who participated in the Jan. 25 protests last year said that this year, numbers were much bigger and the people much more confident.
“Now the people know their rights and they know what to do to get them,” Mohamed Raafat, 32, told Daily News Egypt.
Galal said she couldn’t participate in the Jan. 25 protests because there was still a sense of fear around the idea of protesting.
“My husband was so worried that something would happen to me,” she said. “I think the barrier of fear has been broken and every one can speak out now.”
Protesters chanted, “Yes, we’re chanting against the military…we are the people, the red line.”
Before the uprising, criticizing the military was considered a taboo and a matter of national security.
Mubarak handed over power to SCAF on Feb. 11 of last year. The military council, first hailed as heroes, is now under fire for committing serious human rights violations against protesters in a series of clashes, which left at least 100 dead this year.
Eager to restore its image after accusations of rights abuses, the military has planned mass celebrations with a naval parade off Alexandria, air shows in Cairo and fireworks displays nationwide throughout the week.
The SCAF is also issuing commemorative coins and on Wednesday, it began releasing almost 3,000 prisoners to mark the occasion.
But protesters who see these concessions as insufficient made it a point to march on this iconic day in a demonstration against the ruling power, and not in celebration of Jan. 25.
The marches moved smoothly without any security forces in sight, in a scene completely different from the beginning of the 18-day revolt which toppled Mubarak last year.
“Ever since the revolution, the presence of police forces on the streets has been minimal,” Raafat said.
Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim said the police "will not be present in the squares or where large celebrations are taking place" and called instead on political forces to "form popular committees" to secure the streets.
Even before the protests commenced on Jan.25, 2011, hundreds of riot police were stationed at the High Court. They cordoned protesters into small groups to prevent them from joining each other and establishing a large, strong bloc.
The central security forces and even the protesters themselves had little expectations for Jan. 25, believing that at best hundreds would show up and would easily be dispersed and detained by central security forces like previous protests.
Political analysts downplayed the effect Tunisia’s revolution would have on Egypt before Jan. 25, stressing that "Egypt was no Tunisia."
However the thousands of protesters who reached Tahrir Square in the afternoon, proved everyone wrong. After a brawl of rock throwing between protesters and security forces which lasted for hours, the protesters succeeded in pushing central security forces back and taking over the square.
The chants which started with asking for reforms and a guarantee that Mubarak’s son Gamal would not run for presidency following his father, quickly escalated into one demand, "Down with the regime."
“We achieved the impossible by toppling Mubarak, SCAF should be a piece of cake,” said Bebo, 24, as he made his way to Tahrir in 2012.
This year, Tahrir was packed with demonstrators dominating every corner in the square, commemorating Jan. 25 and reiterating the revolution’s demands.
Three dummies were hung in the middle of the square, representing Mubarak, former interior minister Habib El-Adly and Tantawi in a symbolic execution.
Hossan Abdel Latif, 38, was wheeled into the packed square as he insisted on getting in despite the difficulty.
“We don’t want a ruler that was chosen by a corrupt criminal like Mubarak,” he said.
At least four stages were set up around the iconic square, including one for the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the Muslim Brotherhood’s (MB) political arm.
Liberals and Islamists gathered on different sides of Tahrir in a reflection of the deep political divides that emerged in the year since the downfall of Mubarak.
Liberal and secular groups marched into the square calling for continued "revolution" against the ruling generals who took power after Mubarak’s ouster. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists, in contrast, pressed a message that the revolution had succeeded, the time for protests is over and now Egyptians needed to rally behind the new parliament that they dominate.
Most of the protesters, who aren’t affiliated with any party, said they would hold an open sit-in until their demands are met.
“SCAF will only heed our demands if we pressure them with an open sit-in similar to the final days of Mubarak,” Raafat said. –Additional reporting by Agencies
Protesters lift an obelisk with the names of those killed during last year’s uprising, at a huge rally in Tahrir Square on January 25, 2012. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)
Military bands performed throughout Cairo on Wednesday. (Daily News Egypt Photo/Hassan Ibrahim)