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2011-02-18

"A Celebration, Not a Protest": Massive Crowd Packs Cairo’s Tahrir Square to Mark One Week Since Mubarak’s Ouster

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Tens of thousands have gathered for a victory march through Cairo’s Tahrir Square today to celebrate the overthrow of longtime Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Democracy Now! senior producer Sharif Abdel Kouddous reports from Cairo. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Tens of thousands have gathered for a victory march through Tahrir Square, Liberation Square, to celebrate the overthrow of longtime Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Allegations of government corruption helped spark the uprising that lasted 18 days. And on Thursday, authorities arrested three ex-ministers on corruption charges, including former Interior Minister Habib el-Adly and the ex-ministers for housing and tourism, Ahmed Maghrabi and Zuhair Garana. Steel tycoon Ahmed Ezz was also arrested. All four have denied any misconduct. Officials say they’ll be detained for 15 days.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, labor strikes and protests are occuring across the country. For more, we go directly to Cairo to Democracy Now! senior producer Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Democracy Now! correspondent Anjali Kamat.

Sharif, you’ve just come from Tahrir. What is happening there today?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Amy, Tahrir today is filled with people, one of the biggest protests we’ve seen so far. And today is not a day of protest; it’s a day of celebration. It’s a day of victory. It’s a very festive day. And they had a mass prayer in Tahrir just a couple of hours ago. The prayer was led by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who is a very well-known and respected cleric in Egypt and around the Muslim world. And people here are continuing to come to the streets to put pressure on the military to let them know that they can still fill the spaces in Egypt and call for reform. You know, many say a big obstacle has been overcome with the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, but there’s still a long way to go. I think Tahrir, seeing it today, is really going to be a space for Egyptians to come in the future for all kinds of protests, to have their voices heard.

So, one thing that’s never changed — that has changed forever is that Egyptians will be willing to speak out now, not afraid to speak out, and you’ve been seeing that since this week. It’s been one week since Mubarak stepped down, and we’ve seen strikes across the city, across the country. Even when you’re driving around Egypt, you drive past a fancy hotel, you’ll see the hotel workers out on strike. You drive past a sporting club, you’ll see the workers there are on strike. You drive past a bank, you’ll see the workers there on strike, too. And so, people are calling for reforms, for better wages, for the resignation of officials who have been tied to the regime and corruption.

But one of the main demands, Amy, is that there are still hundreds, if not thousands, of people who have been arrested since this revolution began, and they have still not been released. This is one of the largest concerns, why is the military still holding these people, if they support the revolution and they’re helping the Egyptian uprising? There is a hotline that’s been established that’s, if you’re in Egypt, 01492, where people can call in, give the names and identities of the people that are missing. And people at this hotline have — when they’re trying to find the names of people and call the authorities, have been told, "No, no, these aren’t the protesters; these are the baltaguia, the thugs that attacked you, who are being held." Well, the people are skeptical about that. But they say, "Even if that is the case, they deserve a fair trial, they deserve a fair hearing. We want reforms for everybody." So that’s what’s happening today in Egypt. It’s a festive day, but people are aware that the road is long ahead of them.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Sharif, what about the transition from military rule to civilian rule, the efforts to prepare for new elections or rewrite the constitution? What’s happening on that front?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, this week, Juan, we saw the military appoint a committee to amend the constitution. There are some concerns both with the composition of this committee and its mandate. But, I mean, it’s a mixed review. The committee is led — it’s an eight-member committee. It’s led by Tarek al-Bishry, who is a very well-known constitutional scholar. He’s also a prominent anti-Mubarak critic, which many people are happy about. However, the committee does have scholars on it who were very supportive of the Mubarak regime. It also has a former Muslim Brotherhood member, which some have raised concerns about. A certain number of human rights groups — I think about somewhere between 20 and 30 human rights groups have filed a joint complaint about members of the committee. Having said that, a number of people are happy — many I speak to are happy with the structure of it.

Now, with its mandate, it’s only allowed — it has 10 days to amend specific articles of the constitution. These are articles that deal specifically with the presidency, the ability to establish new political parties. These amendments are very important to change so that Egypt can move on and have these elections that are scheduled for six months. However, many want a complete rewriting of the constitution. They hope that after these amendments there can be some kind of path towards some kind of constitutional assembly with a new parliament that can draft a constitution anew.

There’s also — there’s also some issue — well, I said, there’s also some issues with the composition of the committee. However, there’s also an issue with the timing. You know, many think that six months is far too quick to hold both presidential and parliamentary elections. Many of the political parties here are just forming. There’s many new ones being formed by the youth. There’s new ones being formed by secular groups here. And they think — many people are critical, saying that the only groups that can — will be organized enough in six months to actually run an effective campaign are the National Democratic Party of Hosni Mubarak and the Muslim Brotherhood, which puts us right back to the situation we were before. However, most people are working — looking forward to having these elections in six months and having some kind of representative democracy.

AMY GOODMAN: Sharif, what’s going to happen to Mubarak? He’s in Sharm el-Sheikh. What’s going to happen to the Mubarak circle? Are people going to be brought up on trials — on charges and go to trial?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, this week, Amy, we saw, as you mentioned in your lede, four very top former Mubarak regime members being arrested: Ahmed Ezz, who was a steel tycoon; Habib el-Adly, which is the despised former head of the Ministry of the Interior; we also saw Ahmed Maghrabi, who was the housing minister; as well as Zuhair Garana, who was — and all of them have been charged on charges of money laundering, of corruption, of fraud. Habib el-Adly is also being investigated for the crackdown on the protesters on January 25th and 28th, which led to hundreds of deaths. He’s also being investigated for possibly orchestrating a church bombing in December in order to foment division within Egyptian society. These people, I think, are going to be brought up on charges, and they will be tried.

As far as Mubarak and his family, himself, it’s unclear what’s going to happen. I do not think, and I’m pretty confident that the military will not allow Mubarak to be tried. I can’t say that with 100 percent assurance, but let’s remember, this is the military that stood by Mubarak for 30 years. They’re not an independent group. And Mubarak himself was a former head of the air force. He’s from the military. A lot of these people are very close to him. I doubt that he will be brought up on charges, despite calls by many in Tahrir that he be tried.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Sharif, what’s happened to former Vice President Suleiman, who has apparently disappeared from the scene, as well? Any word on him?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Juan, I have not heard word on Omar Suleiman, as well. You know, as we know, he was still in the government with this new system formed. But actually, it’s the first time I hear that he’s disappeared. As you know, being on the ground here, it’s hard sometimes to get the latest news. But let me just also stress that this issue with the military, you know, Amnesty has gotten many reports of torture of detainees at the hands of the military, so has Human Rights Watch. And so, while people here are still very — put a lot of trust in the military, they are being accused of these allegations of torture. They are the same military that stood by Mubarak for these 30 years. And so, people are very wary of that, as well. And they want to — one of the reasons that they’re packing Tahrir today is not only victory, but to show that they can still fill the streets and have their voices heard, and the military should not forget that.

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