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Egyptians Fill Tahrir Square for Largest Protest Since Fall of President Mubarak

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Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians have gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square for what could be the largest demonstration since the uprising that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak. They say there has been little progress on reforms promised in the five months since the uprising. In Suez on Monday, riots were sparked by a court order to release seven policemen charged with killing demonstrators. On Tuesday, the courts acquitted three former government ministers over corruption allegations. We get a live update from Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous in Tahrir Square. “There’s a growing sentiment that the revolution is being stolen from beneath people’s feet here,” says Kouddous. [includes rush transcript]

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

JUAN GONZALEZ: We turn now to Egypt, where a massive demonstration is underway in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. It’s been five months since the uprising that led to the fall of former president Hosni Mubarak, and many Egyptians say few of its goals have been met. In Suez on Monday, riots were sparked by a court order to release seven policemen charged with killing demonstrators. On Tuesday, the courts acquitted three former government ministers over corruption allegations.

AMY GOODMAN: Activists and political groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, have called for more than a million people to protest today in Tahrir Square. It could be the biggest Friday protest yet since the uprising.

For more, we go to Tahrir, where Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous is joining us live.

Hi, Sharif. What is happening right now?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Hi, Amy. It’s good to be with you.

Amy, today is possibly the biggest protest since the 18-day uprising. Tahrir Square is absolutely filled to the gills. There are tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people here, who have gathered today to call to protect the revolution and to continue its goals. Many feel that the direction of the country, five months after Hosni Mubarak was toppled, is going the wrong direction. You know, the head of the Mubarak regime, Hosni Mubarak, his sons, the senior leadership are all gone, but many feel that the body and the soul of the former regime still remains.

And this is—one of the reasons this is so big today is that there’s been issues that have been really building and have boiled over in the last few weeks. This began really with the postponement of the trial of Habib el-Adly for the killing of protesters in the 18-day uprising. His trial was postponed, and that sparked clashes outside the courtroom, where the families of martyrs killed in the revolution had gathered. They’re not even [inaudible] they clashed with police outside. And this issue of justice and accountability continued to go on two days after that postponement. Families of martyrs were reportedly beaten and arrested by police at a theater here in Cairo, and that sparked clashes with thousands of protesters against Tahrir Square and faced off with Central Security Forces. More than a thousand people were injured. The police resorted to the same brutal tactics that they have used in the past, Hosni Mubarak used, rubber bullets and tear gas. Some human rights groups documented the use of live ammunition. Over a thousand people were injured.

So, people are calling for justice. They’re calling for accountability of former regime members. People are calling for reform of the police forces, of the purging of the security forces of known human rights abusers, many whom are still operating with impunity. It’s really unbelievable that not one person, not one police officer, is in prison for the killing of nearly 850 people during the uprising five months ago. Not one—only one police officer has been convicted in absentia, but no one else.

And this really began escalating again, as you mentioned, in the run-up in Suez just a few days ago. Suez was really the scene of some of the most violent clashes with police during the—when the revolution first began, and it’s where the first person killed was, on January 25th. The trial of seven police officers in Suez, accused of killing protesters, was postponed until September, and the seven police officers were free to go on bail. This sparked outrage by the families, by protesters outside. They clashed with police, and they have been occupying a square in Suez, a square called Arbaeen Square, for the past four days. And then on Tuesday of this week, a criminal court acquitted the former information minister, Anas el-Fiqqi, and the former finance minister, Youssef Boutros-Ghali, on corruption charges.

So, it’s all of these things that have culminated, and people are worried that ex-officials are going to receive light sentences. And as this happens, as we’ve spoken on Democracy Now! before, more than 6,000 civilians have been tried and convicted in military court. So, there’s a growing sentiment that the revolution is being stolen from beneath people’s feet here.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Sharif, President Obama met with congressional leaders at the White House Thursday, and he vowed not to sign a short-term extension of the U.S. $14.3 [trillion] debt ceiling beyond the approaching August 2nd deadline. As part of the debt negotiations, the White House has proposed slashing more than $4 trillion from annual budget deficits over the next decade, twice what Obama had promised earlier.

While much of the talk in Washington centers on taxes, Social Security and Medicare, far less attention is being paid to the growing cost of U.S. wars overseas.

AMY GOODMAN: And in a moment, we’re going to talk about what those costs are, but Sharif, I wanted to just finally ask you, before we talk about the trillions of dollars that are being spent, about the significance of the Muslim Brotherhood participating in this protest in a way they haven’t before, in fact, in the past, working with the military in these last few months. Sharif?

Ah, OK, we just lost Sharif, but we will show the photographs that Sharif has been taking at Tahrir, and we will also re-tweet his tweets throughout the day at Thanks so much to Sharif Abdel Kouddous, reporting to us from Tahrir, as we move from Egypt to what is happening now in the United States, these negotiations that are going on.

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