CAIRO – Demonstrators who turned up in Cairo’s Tahrir Square Friday in even larger numbers than on earlier days are from all walks of life: old men wearing traditional galibiyas, young people in jeans and T-shirts, and women of all ages wearing Islamic head scarves. The protesters, whose numbers across the nation are now estimated at more than one million and growing, shout variations of one slogan: "The people want the fall of the regime!"
On Jan. 25, the "Day of Anger" organized by online activists to protest police abuses and official corruption quickly mushroomed beyond anyone’s expectations. Thousands of protesters, tens of thousands in some cases, turned out countrywide to demand free elections and the termination of Egypt’s hated Emergency Law.
In addition to political grievances, demonstrators also demanded relief from skyrocketing inflation and rampant unemployment, which have in recent years sunk the country into a state of chronic economic stagnation and widespread despair.
For the next 11 days, protests increased in size and intensity – especially in Cairo, Alexandria, and the northern canal city of Suez – with violent clashes between demonstrators and police erupting on an almost daily basis. Although exact figures are still unavailable, hundreds of protesters have reportedly been killed and thousands injured.
The demonstrations in Egypt came quick on the heels of a popular uprising in Tunisia in January. Tunisia’s "Jasmine Revolution" ended with overthrow of the unpopular regime of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, which had ruled the country with an iron fist for 23 years.
"The biggest demonstration in Tunisia involved only 15,000 protesters," Abdelhalim Kandil, prominent Egyptian opposition figure and general coordinator of the pro-democracy Kefaya movement, told IPS. "With the numbers we have now, we can bring down the Egyptian regime."
"Our first demonstration on Jan. 25 was a dress rehearsal for the revolution; Jan. 28 was the actual revolution," added Kandil. "And today, we aren’t going to move from Tahrir Square until we see the final ouster of the Mubarak regime once and for all."
Protesters now in the square – site of the most intense and violent clashes in recent days – echoed these sentiments, saying that the violent methods that have been used by police had only strengthened their resolve.
"At first we were simply demonstrating against police torture and official corruption. We just wanted to ensure our basic human rights and be treated with a little dignity," Asmaa Mahfouz, 26, a member of the 6 April protest movement and an active demonstrator, told IPS. "But after the violence used against us by the police, especially on Wednesday and Thursday, we’re now demanding that the entire Mubarak regime be removed and face trial for murder."
"As for Mubarak’s promise on Tuesday that he wouldn’t run for a sixth term as president, we put no stock in this," she added. "He’s made the same promises several times in the past and has never made good on them."
"Our demands were originally for social and economic reforms, including an end to police torture, crushing inflation and substandard government services," Sarah Ramadan, 20, member of the Youth Movement for Freedom and Justice and protester, told IPS. "Most of those participating in the demonstrations aren’t even political activists. They’re just ordinary Egyptians fed up with the political and economic status quo.
"But after the shocking violence employed by the police since the very beginning, protesters quickly began calling for the removal of the government and everyone associated with it," she added.
Mohamed Ibrahim, 30, member of the Muslim Brotherhood opposition movement and active protester, told IPS: "Thirty years of repression, corruption, torture and inflation are sufficient reasons to remove – and put on trial – any political regime. I’m not here in my capacity as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. I’m here as a citizen of Egypt who wants freedom for Egypt and for the Egyptian people, whom I love."
"I have no interest in politics," Amgad Ahmed, 31, from the Nile Delta city of Kafr al-Sheikh north of Cairo told IPS. "But I’ve been looking for a job for the last eight years and can barely afford to feed myself. Meanwhile, the rich businessmen associated with the Mubarak regime are making millions, and that’s why I want to see the back of this unjust and oppressive regime."
Um Manar, 55, mother of three and widow from Cairo, is no less fed up with the chronic inflation and unemployment that have been central features of the Mubarak era.
"My husband died 15 years ago and his pension is insufficient for me to feed myself and three daughters. Neither I nor my daughters can find any work, while these businessmen with their friends in the government have more money than they know what to do with," she told IPS. "If the revolution succeeds, we will achieve social and economic justice and me and my family – and all the Egyptian people – will enjoy a brighter future.
"I’m not afraid to die," Manar added. "Even if they kill me here in Tahrir Square, I’ll die happy, because I will have done everything in my power to care for my family."
George Mikhael, 62, a Coptic Christian farmer from the outskirts of Cairo, was no less prepared to stand his ground in the face of government intimidation and violence.
"For the last two years, the government stopped providing me with the healthcare to which I’m entitled, even though I suffer from several chronic health problems," he told IPS. "Without treatment, I won’t live much longer. So it’s better to die here, helping my compatriots throw out this unjust government.
"Egypt’s Christians and Muslims are here together, protecting one another from attacks by police. Muslim protesters are even helping me get hold of my medicine," Mikhael added. "The Mubarak regime is the only one that benefits from sectarian tension between the two religions, because this has helped it divide the people."
Ahmed al-Assy, says this will be Egypt’s moment of truth. "After what the police and the government did to us in the last ten days, we’ve drawn a line in the sand," he told IPS. "We have millions on our side now. And we’re not going to leave without the unconditional capitulation of the dictatorial regime of former president – with emphasis on the word ‘former’ – Hosni Mubarak."
(Inter Press Service)