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Thousands of Egyptians celebrate, protest on anniversary of revolution

January 25, 2012 |  7:11 am

REPORTING FROM CAIRO -- Tens of thousands of Egyptians poured into Tahrir Square on Wednesday in celebration and protest to mark the anniversary of the revolution that brought down Hosni Mubarak and set the nation on a troubled and still unfulfilled path toward democracy.

Songs of joy and shouts of anger echoed across the now-fabled square as two Egypts born from a single revolt unfurled opposing banners beneath clear skies: one reveling in an autocrat’s overthrow and the free election of a new parliament; the other cursing the ruling army generals for crushing dissent and betraying the spirit of the revolution.

“Egyptians discovered themselves in this revolution,” said Sami Mkheimar, a teacher. “We toppled the symbols of corruption that ruled this country. For the first time in history we elected a parliament that represents all of society. These are great achievements.”

 Not far away, in another camp, Khaled Ahmed, draped in a flag, was more bitter than festive.

“We want civilian rule. We want dignity, freedom and social justice. The brutality against the people must stop,” said Ahmed, a tour guide who hasn’t worked in the year since his industry collapsed against the country’s unrest. “Women dragged in streets, protesters beaten, these are not signs the military is planning to step aside.”

The ancient touchstone of the Arab world, whose 18-day revolution last year inspired uprisings across the region, Egypt is a mirror blurred with competing ambitions and differing national dreams. There are victors –- the army and the Muslim Brotherhood –- and, at least for now, losers –- young revolutionaries who helped ignite the uprising but had no means to channel street credibility into power.

Along these fault lines run wariness among liberals over the relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood and the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. The Brotherhood, once the country’s most potent opposition, controls 47% of the seats in parliament and has tempered its criticism of the army. It has agreed to the military’s timeline of transferring power to a civilian government after a president is elected in June.    

Mohamed Mustapha thinks the Brotherhood and the military have grown too cozy.

 “The square is divided,” he said. “The Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamists are here to attract the energy for their own political interests. On the other side are the liberals. We want freedom and dignity and an immediate end to military rule.”

By midafternoon, new surges filled the square as marches led by young activist groups swelled along the Nile. Many of them took part in the protests in December and earlier this month, during which scores of people were killed in battles with soldiers and security forces.

“New clashes may be inevitable between the revolutionaries and the military,” said Ibrahim Fahmy, an agricultural engineer. “And the Brotherhood will be holding the stick in the middle trying to protect its gains.”

But there was little hint of violence in the air Wednesday as fathers carried sons in their arms and young men climbed atop street lights, waving flags and chanting amid speeches crackling from loudspeakers and the flapping pictures of martyrs.

A man walked through the crowd holding the scales of justice in one hand and a hangman’s noose in the other -– a message, no doubt, for Mubarak, who is on trial for conspiracy to kill hundreds of demonstrators in the upheavals that broke out one year ago.


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-- Jeffrey Fleishman

Photo: Egyptians gather in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Wednesday to mark the first anniversary rally of the revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak. Credit: Mahmud Hams / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images