Thousands of protesters returned to downtown Cairo's Tahrir Square Friday for what they called a "second revolution," pressing Egypt's military rulers to speed up the pace of democratic reforms in a country that is still charting its political future.
CAIRO – Protesters carried banners reading the “Egyptian revolution is not over” and chanted the slogan.
Christians and Muslims took turns praying in Tahrir Square, as they did during the protests that forced the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in February. Sectarian clashes have turned deadly since the revolution.
They also called for the speedy trial of Mubarak and high-ranking members of his regime.
“Our biggest fault is that we left Tahrir Square before seeing Mubarak inside a courtroom being tried,” 24-year-old salesman Ahmed Shawqi said.
Turnout was lower than expected after the ruling military warned that “dubious” elements may try to cause chaos during the protests and said it would stay clear of the protest area to avoid friction. The lack of a security presence made some protesters feel unsafe.
Two days before the protest, the prosecutor general ordered Mubarak and his sons to be tried on charges of ordering the killing of protesters during the uprising, along with other charges. That move likely tamped down the number of protesters returning to Tahrir Square.
Some 850 Egyptians were killed during the uprising, many shot by security forces, rights groups say. Thousands were injured.
Protesters formed checkpoints at the square’s entrances, body-searched visitors and asked for identification. Some protesters vowed to stay all night.
The military’s leadership of the country’s democratic transition has left many protesters dissatisfied.
“I came here because I didn’t feel that Egypt changed,” technician Raafat Hendi said, under huge posters calling for a new constitution.
Some critics accuse the military rulers of collaborating with the former regime and being too lenient in its prosecution of Mubarak, his family and regime members.
The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s best organized political force, opposed the protest and called it an attempt to drive a wedge between the military and the people. The Brotherhood’s absence will test the ability of liberal and secular groups to launch their own sustained opposition movement.
Some liberal groups are calling for planned parliamentary elections, now set for September, to be pushed back so that they will have more time to prepare. The Brotherhood, however, stands to make major gains and wants the vote to go ahead.
The protest movement wants to oust the ruling Armed Forces Council and replace it with a civilian council. Protesters accuse the army of using excessive force in cracking down on peaceful protesters since Mubarak’s ouster, sending thousands to military tribunals and detaining young protesters.
A joint statement by four liberal and secular groups called for postponing the September elections, drafting basic principles that guarantee that Egypt is a civil state and ending military tribunals.
The statement reflects worries of many political groups that the Brotherhood is poised to win a big portion of parliament.
Some protesters are demanding a new constitution prior to elections, a divisive issue.
“We can’t go to elections without having a constitution first,” said 29-year-old accountant Ezz Eldin Hamid. “You put the plan first then go to the game, not the other way around.”
A referendum that passed in March with the backing of the military and the Brotherhood paved the way for parliamentary and presidential elections. It mandated that the country’s new constitution will be written by a committee selected by the new parliament.
The protest movement fears a growing convergence of opinions between the Islamists and the military.
Thousands of protesters marched in other Egyptian cities like Alexandria and Suez, which also saw deadly clashes with security forces during the uprising. The army and police withdrew all their forces and vehicles from Suez before Friday’s protest began.