Egyptian activists vowed yesterday to stay camped in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, accusing the army rulers of failing to sweep out corruption, end the use of military courts and swiftly try those who killed protesters.
Anger has been rising against what many Egyptians see as the reluctance of the military council to deliver on the demands of protesters who ousted Hosni Mubarak in February. They include speeding up the pace of Mubarak’s trial over the killings of demonstrators, which is scheduled to start August 3.
A speech by Prime Minister Essam Sharaf on Saturday that promised action but was thin on detail only stoked frustrations.
One speaker in Tahrir, the symbolic centre of the revolt that toppled Mubarak, said Sharaf deserved a “red card,” the soccer term for being sent off. Youth groups on Facebook called for stepping up action this week.
Analysts said the army-appointed government needed to act quickly if it wanted to avoid a further escalation even if some of the aspirations for change were unreasonably high.
The Public Prosecution office, in what appeared to be an attempt to placate protesters, posted a list of the legal measures it had taken against senior officials of the Interior Ministry accused of killing protesters, including trial dates.
An Egyptian judge also said on Sunday that new criminal cases would be deferred to other courts to free up judges reviewing cases linked to corruption and the death of protesters, in line with Sharaf’s call to expedite protester demands.
Hundreds of people were camped in Tahrir Square, in the heart of Cairo, throughout Sunday. Activists said more would join late in the day, including some heading in from Suez where protests have been taking place since Wednesday.
A sign reading: “Civil disobedience until further notice” was pinned up outside the vast ‘Mogamma’ administrative building in Tahrir. Protesters blocked the main roads to the square and set up security barricades.
Employees and some who made the trip to finish paperwork at the administrative building — stood arguing with protesters that they had jobs to do — after being barred from entry.
Makeshift tents were set up in the centre of the square, where some protesters have stayed since a mass rally on Friday dubbed “Revolution First” that demanded swifter reforms. Some chanted for Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi to go.
Tantawi, who now leads the military council in charge of Egypt, was Mubarak’s defence minister for two decades. The army has pledged to hand power to civilians soon and has scheduled a parliamentary election for September.
“The entire military council served Mubarak and the entire Cabinet is nothing but the remnants of his regime,” a longtime critic of the former president, Abdel Hamid Qandil, said.
“We have been manipulated for almost six months. If our demands are not met, there will be further escalation,” said a 37-year-old protester, who identified himself only as Mohamed.
After Sharaf’s speech, the Revolution Youth Coalition called for speeding up trials, hiking the minimum wage, stopping trials of civilians in military courts and reforming the Interior Ministry, criticised by Egyptians for the rough manner police handled protests during and since the uprising.
“People’s emotions are rising, especially over the issue of retribution for the killers (of protesters). … There is no patience, especially because the people know the killers, saw them and reported them,” said Adel Soliman, executive director of the International Centre for Future and Strategic Studies.
More than 100 Egyptian political groups warned they reserved the right “to use all legitimate methods to push for achieving their demands, foremost of which a general strike, civil disobedience.”
The prime minister has come in for increasingly tough criticism. His appointment in March was initially welcomed as the former minister had joined protesters in Tahrir even when Mubarak was still in office. Now, activists say he has failed to act firmly as a mediator between protesters and the army.
Ahmed Abdullah wrote on Facebook after Sharaf’s speech: “What I am failing to understand is this is not what was demanded in Tahrir. Essam Sharaf promised he would achieve the demands of the revolution or join it, where is that promise.”