Cairo, January 25, 2012 (AFP)
Cairo, January 25, 2012 (AFP)
Egyptians on Wednesday mark the first anniversary of the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak, with the ruling military planning grandiose celebrations while activists vow to re-ignite their unfinished revolution.
Exactly one year ago, inspired by an uprising in Tunisia, ordinary Egyptians took to the streets to call for democratic change and to demand the fall of the regime.
On Tuesday, Egypt’s military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi announced the partial lifting of the country’s hated decades-old emergency law, in an apparent bid to placate protesters who have planned mass protests in Cairo on Wednesday.
“I have taken a decision to end the state of emergency, in all parts of the country, except in fighting acts of thuggery, starting on the morning of January 25, 2012,” Tantawi said in a televised address.
But activists claimed the move was cosmetic, denouncing the use of the term “thuggery” as a way to maintain the police’s wide powers of arrest under the law.
“For all purposes, the state of emergency has not been lifted,” said Hossam Bahgat, Director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).
As Tantawi made the announcement, hundreds of protesters were already making their way to Cairo’s Tahrir Square — the symbolic heart of the uprising.
Once the official “Day of the Police”, January 25 has now been declared “Revolution Day” by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which took power when Mubarak stepped down last February.
Eager to restore its image after accusations of rights abuses, the military has planned mass celebrations with a naval parade in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, air shows in Cairo and fireworks displays around the country.
The SCAF is also issuing commemorative coins for the occasion and is expected to honour public servants.
It has called on Egyptians to “preserve the spirit of January 25, which united the Egyptian people, men and women, young and old, Muslims and Christians.”
But activists say the revolution has been hijacked by Tantawi, Mubarak’s longtime defence minister.
“We must take to the streets on Wednesday, not to celebrate a revolution which has not achieved its goals, but to demonstrate peacefully our determination to achieve the objectives of the revolution,” wrote prominent novelist and pro-democracy activist Alaa al-Aswani.
These goals remain to “live in dignity, bring about justice, try the killers of the martyrs and achieve a minimum social justice,” Aswani wrote in the independent daily al-Masry al-Youm.
Protesters want Tantawi and the ruling generals to step down immediately and to stay out of the drafting of the country’s new constitution, for fear they may enshrine military powers into the charter.
The SCAF has vowed to cede power to civilian rule when a president is elected by June.
The powerful Muslim Brotherhood, still basking in the glory of its parliamentary triumph, has announced it they will join the celebrations on Wednesday, without calling for “a second revolution” or demanding the ouster of the junta.
“The formation of the parliament is the biggest celebration of the anniversary of the revolution,” the group said on its website, a day after the lower house convened for the first time since it was dissolved following the uprising.
Leading Muslim Brotherhood member Saad al-Katatni was elected speaker of parliament on Monday, in scenes unthinkable just a year ago when the group was still banned under Mubarak.
Meanwhile, security forces say they are on alert for “any attempts to sabotage” the celebration, a thinly veiled warning to the protesters.
But Interior Minister Mohammed 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.
Amnesty International said the military rulers must protect protesters and uphold the right to peaceful assembly
“Rather than abandoning the sites of planned demonstrations, the security forces must act responsibly by ensuring that everyone can safely exercise their right to peaceful expression and assembly,” said Hassiba Hadj-Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa deputy director.
“In a polarised environment where protesters have been portrayed by some state media and the authorities as trouble makers and as counter-protests are planned on the day, the position of the authorities risks amounting to a dereliction of their duty,” she said.
Meanwhile, Mubarak will watch the anniversary events from a bed in a Cairo military hospital, where he is in custody accused of involvement in the killing of protesters during the uprising that toppled him.
If found guilty, the former president of 30 years could face the death penalty.