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EGYPT: Tahrir Square looks like February all over again

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Cairo’s Tahrir Square is beginning to look and feel like it did last winter when hundreds of thousands of Egyptians protested, camped and fought for 18 days to topple President Hosni Mubarak. Activists have returned to the now-fabled square with banners and anthems in hopes of reigniting the passions of a revolution that stunned the Arab world.

A march on Friday started with tens of thousands filling the square and ended with several thousand holding a sit-in that has stretched into a fourth day in a provocative challenge to the ruling military council. Protesters are demanding speedier trials for members of Mubarak’s regime who have been charged with corruption and the murders of hundreds of protesters during the revolution.

Several other demands include an end to military trials set up for civilians detained in various incidents over the last few months, the firing of all former regime officials still holding public office and the setting of a minimum wage. An televised address to the nation on Saturday by Prime Minister Essam Sharaf promising meet some demands did little to calm the furor.

The protests in Tahrir are smaller than they were in January and February. Most of those joining the sit-in fear that the revolution is slipping away from them, and that the promises by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces and the interim government cannot be trusted.

“Many people are here to fulfill the remainder of the revolution’s goals, but I say that none of the revolution's main aims have been achieved,” Mohamed Fawzy, an 18-year-old aviation engineering student, told The Times from his tent in the square’s middle garden.

“Only 10% of what we were calling for was accomplished, and that’s ousting Mubarak, that’s if he actually stepped down,” he said, suggesting, like many here, that Mubarak and his aides are controlling the agenda from behind the scenes. The former president is in a hospital with heart problems and is expected to go on trial on Aug. 3.

 One of the main issues that raised suspicions about the revolution's success is the constant delays in bringing Mubarak, his two sons and former ministers to justice. Although five former ministers, including former Interior Minister Habib Adli, were sentenced to prison for corruption charges, many protesters are dismayed that neither Adli nor any of the 120 police officers charged with killing protesters has faced a verdict yet on those charges.

It seems that Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the military council, is "trying to protect Mubarak, Adli and nine other former officials,” said Magdi Iskandar Saad, whose son Mina was killed by police officers on Jan. 28. “We feel there’s something cooking but don’t know exactly what.”

Fawzy said Egypt's destiny counts on the indictment of the “corrupt” ex-officials. He added: “Their presence outside prison bars is a great threat to the revolution. We’ve had a ruined tree that needs to be uprooted. Only then we can’t start rebuilding this country,” he said.

So Tahrir Square, once again scattered with tents and stages, has become reminiscent of scenes when the Mubarak regime unraveled. Many protesters escape the staggering afternoon heat of the Egyptian summer, heading home to rest and eat and returningin the evenings.  Activists have called for a million-man march in Tahrir on Tuesday.

--Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Tens of thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square on Friday. Credit: Camille Lepage for the Los Angeles Times.

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