Friday, February 18, 2011

Demonstrators fill Tahrir Square to press military for more reforms

By Leila Fadel and Muhammad Mansour
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, February 18, 2011; 7:57 AM

CAIRO - Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians joined nationwide demonstrations Friday to mark the fall a week ago of President Hosni Mubarak and to press the country's military leadership to implement democratic reforms.

The gatherings emphasized that the Feb. 11 ouster of Mubarak was only the start of reforms that demonstrators demanded during their 18-day revolution to end his 30-year, autocratic rule.

In apparent response to a public clamor for accountability, authorities arrested four Mubarak loyalists suspected of corruption, state news agencies announced Friday. The arrests came as prosecutors conduct investigations into charges of money laundering, graft and wasting public funds.

Among the detained was former interior minister Habib al-Adli, who commanded the feared police force and paramilitary security forces. Also arrested were Ahmed Izz, a steel magnate and a senior leader of the ruling party; former housing minister Ahmed Maghrabi; and former tourism minister Zuhair Garana.

In the capital, tens of thousands of festive Egyptians streamed into central Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the uprising, for Friday prayers in a demonstration billed as the "Day of Victory and Continuation."

In the center of the square, memorials were set up for the more than 330 people killed during the revolution. Demonstrators chanted, "The people demand the trial of the regime."

An influential Islamic scholar, Yousef al-Qaradawi, led the prayers in Tahrir Square and called for a new government and the release of all political prisoners. "I call on the Egyptian army to liberate us from the government that Mubarak formed," he told Egyptians in a televised sermon. "The revolution is not over until we have a new Egypt," he said.

One of the main grievances of the demonstrators was the conduct of the police force that attacked them during peaceful demonstrations and that, for decades, treated ordinary Egyptians in a brutal and corrupt fashion. The demonstrators also have expressed anger at the corruption in the Mubarak government that allowed opportunities only for a small elite class and left much of Egypt poor.

So far, the military chiefs now ruling Egypt under de facto martial law seem to be working toward answering the rest of the demands of the demonstrators. But many activists of the leaderless protest movement that brought down Mubarak doubt that the military will continue on a path to democracy without street pressure.

The military dissolved the parliament, froze the constitution and appointed a committee to amend constitutional articles in order to relax election eligibility rules and impose term limits on the presidency.

Demonstrators have demanded that the cabinet be dissolved and all detained protesters be released. They also want trials for high-ranking members of the ruling party, the abolition of the emergency law that allows the government to detain people indefinitely without warrants and the dismantling of the feared state security services.

As the pro-democracy demonstrators poured into Tahrir Square, a few hundred people gathered in support of the former president in the upper-class district of Mohandiseen. They rejected what they said was the humiliating manner in which Mubarak was ousted.

The 82-year-old former air force commander is believed to be residing in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. In speeches before he handed power to the Egyptian armed forces, he vowed that he would not leave the country and would die on Egyptian soil.

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