Egypt: Fresh protests to demand real change

Protesters start to gather at Tahrir Square, September 9. Photo by Ted Walker.
Monday, September 12, 2011

Tens of thousands of Egyptians reclaimed Tahrir square from police on September 9, demanding an end to military trials of civilians and for judicial freedom.

Security forces withdrew from the square on the day before. It had been under guard since a sit-in was broken up on August 1.

Groups of youth immediately started organising the September 9 rally. They marched through the streets of downtown Cairo demanding an end to the rule of the military council and calling for Cairo's residents to join the protest.

Hundreds of youth were still in the square in the early morning of September 9, debating Egyptian politics. Marches from across Cairo began flooding into Tahrir Square hours before the publicised start time.

As Friday prayers came to an end, thousands more filled the square, including fans of the Ahly and Zamalek football clubs.

The two groups of supporters, ordinarily rivals, led many of the protest's chants together.

About 100 members of the Independent Farmers’ Union also took part. They demanded an end to corruption within the Ministry of Agriculture, the secretary general of the union’s Giza branch, Misbah Asaker, was reported as saying by Al Masry Al Youm.

At about 4pm, protesters began marching out of the square to other sites in the thousands.

Groups marched on the interior ministry and the Supreme Court. They demanded an end to police repression and that those guilty of killing protesters be brought to justice.

Thousands of protesters also marched on the Israeli embassy, using ropes and hammers to tear down a concrete wall assembled the week before to prevent demonstrations.

During the night, protesters broke into the embassy and threw documents into the street, triggering clashes with the notorious Central Security Forces riot police that left three people dead.

The Israeli ambassador and embassy staff had fled Egypt by early morning.

The protests have been named the demonstrations, "Friday of correcting the course of the revolution". Most of the demands centred around fulfilling key goals of the January uprising which overthrew Hosni Mubarak, including democratic and economic freedoms.

However, the Israeli attack on Sinai in August that killed five Egyptian soldiers, as well as Israel's ongoing bombardment and repression of Gaza, has brought Egypt's role in the broader middle-east to the forefront.

The gap between the Egyptian government's attitude towards Israel — one of maintaining the allegiance held by Mubarak's regime — and that of the Egyptian people, was clearly expressed by the government's refusal to expel Israel's ambassador in response to the Sinai bombings.

Now, however, the Egyptian people have taken their relationship with Israel into their own hands.

The Cairo protests were just one aspect of the ongoing revolutionary struggle in Egypt. Another coming to a head in recent weeks is radical trade union organisation, independent of the bureaucratic structures formerly controlled by Mubarak's regime.

Textile workers in one factory of the industrial city of Mahalla — an epicentre of workers' struggle in the last four years — called off a strike planned for September 10 after the government agreed to their demands. They won increased pay and organising new elections for factory management, Daily News Egypt said.

However, workers in three other factories in Mahalla, and others around the country, have threatened to join the strike until they win the same demands.

Medical workers also staged protests on September 10. Teachers, for their part, assembled in downtown Cairo to call for an open ended strike, which threatens to disrupt the new school year on September 17.

Teacher Khaled Assawy told Ahram Online: "We are not afraid of the threats that we have been hearing from the government this whole week. We know what we want and we will fight for it."

The teachers’ demands include salary raises and improvements in benefits, decent training and permanent employment for thousands of teachers on short-term contracts. They also call for the resignation of education minister Ahmed Moussa.