Cairo – Thousands of protesters filled Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday for what was billed as a “second revolution,” chanting their demands: try former President Hosni Mubarak and his cronies immediately, end military courts, replace the military government with civilian leaders, reform the constitution and delay the September elections.
There were so many demands, so many slogans and signs, it was difficult to keep track.
“Our message is to continue our revolution until we achieve our goals,” said Mazen Ragab, 25, and English teacher, the goals being, “Security, stability – something like that.”
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Liberal activists called the protest a success. But analysts and observers said it was the latest proof that Egypt's progressives have failed to organize themselves post-revolution into a unified political force capable of overtaking the Muslim Brotherhood, a far more established opposition movement, in the upcoming elections.
“Egypt's liberals are having a lot of trouble with the transition” since Mubarak's ouster in February, said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center. “They're good at protests, but not good at organizing their demands. People are getting frustrated that there's no game plan.”
Four liberal and secular groups issued a joint list of demands ahead of Friday's protest, including guaranteeing Egypt will be a civil state, ending military courts used to try protesters and other civilians, and postponing the elections until they're better able to compete.
But unity is about more than demands, Hamid said.
Many Egyptians still don't know what it means to be a liberal, he said. If liberal activists and candidates don't get their message across soon, he added, they could be “wiped out” in the coming elections by the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Islamic movement was suppressed under Mubarak's military-backed regime. But in recent weeks its leaders have allied themselves with the military government and refused to participate in Friday's protest because it would “drive a wedge” between the army and the people, according to a statement.
“The liberals are very reactive – the military does something, they react. But the Islamists are building; they're forming coalitions and figuring out a way to win in September,” Hamid said.
In order to succeed in the new government, Hamid said, liberals will have to form their own coalitions, likely with religious groups, and let go of being so secular. “They need to learn to speak the language of religion,” he said, the way liberal leaders in Turkey have.
Amani Nour Eldin, 32, disagreed. She wore a head scarf and conservative outfit to the square, but said it was important to her that the liberal movement in Egypt stays secular, with secular candidates.
“There are a lot of people like me here who want to vote for a political party that is not about religion,” Eldin said.
Protesters chanted, “The square is packed, packed, we can gather the numbers without the Muslim Brotherhood!” and carried signs demanding, “I want a military council made up of civilians as well as the military!”
Karim Ezz Eldin, 24, who works with the April 6th Youth Movement, said liberals do not need to speak with one voice. They fought the revolution to establish democracy, a plurality of voices, in a nation where past elections were largely shams and dissent was repressed.
“Everyone has got their own demands – that's fine. This shows the revolution is legitimate,” he said.
Others argued from the sidelines agreed that liberals would do better to work with the military government, rather than issue demands and perpetually protest.
“The military council should be given a chance and the time to work – they supported the revolution,” said Hussein Osman, 50, a businessman who did not attend the protest. “People are not helping, going out every day and protesting. The country is not stable.”
(Hassan is a news assistant in the Times' Cairo bureau.)
© 2011 McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
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