January 25, Part Two: The ongoing revolution

Thu, Sep. 12, 2013
Protests won out over celebrations as hundreds of thousands mark the first anniversary of the revolution.
By Randa El Tahawy
The one-year anniversary of the day Egyptians took to the streets to topple President Hosni Mubarak brought with it many questions about what would happen on January 25, 2012.  In the debates leading up to the day, no one knew what to expect, with predictions ranging from violent clashes and conspiracies to destroy the country to celebrations and million-man marches.In the early days of January of this year, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed forces (SCAF) announced that January 25 would be a national holiday celebrating the revolution. General Ismail Etman said that military leaders who witnessed the revolution would be decorated with medals, and that the armed forces will hold an official celebration similar to those commemorating the 1952 coup d’état on July 23.  He added that 13 performers would participate, including a folk band that would tour Al-Arish, Alexandria, Marsa Matrouh, El-Nouba and Suez.   The Ministry of Culture was reportedly also going to coordinate a celebration in Tahrir Square; other plans included an aerobatic performance and a tombola (raffle with prizes). In reaction to proposed celebrations, many called for massive protests on January 25 to remember the martyrs and continue what they called the unfinished revolution. While the revolutionaries demand the military hand power over to an elected president as early as April, SCAF maintains it will cede power on June 30. On January 24, Tantawi announced that the 30-plus years state of emergency would be  lifted as of January 25, but the emergency law would still be applied in cases of “thuggery.” Also on January 25, nearly 2,000 people convicted in military courts were released from prison after being pardoned by SCAF. But to most revolutionaries, these were not reason enough to celebrate and forget the initial demands and martyrs of January 25. “You are supposed to celebrate achievements, none of the goals of the revolution were achieved to celebrate,” said author Alaa El Aswany, appearing on  journalist and TV host Yosri Fouda's ONTV program Akher Kalam (Last Word). But as the protest calls grew, SCAF warned people about conspiracies to “burn” and “overthrow” the country, in an effort to sway public opinion against joining  protests on January 25. “The armed forces is the backbone that protects Egypt. These schemes are aimed at targeting that backbone. We will not allow it and will carry out our task perfectly to hand over the nation to an elected civilian administration,” said Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, quoted by the Associated Press on January 18.   Celebration or Mourning? Before the big day, people’s expectations fell in two camps: January 25 would be a day to celebrate a year of protests that led to Mubarak’s ouster, or a day to demand a transition of power from SCAF. Sondos Shabayek, an Egyptian activist and director of Tahrir Monologues performance, told Egypt Today that she feared festivities, saying,“I pray for an awakening, fear another festive gathering and hope for a mass movement.” Although some were concerned of what might happen on the day, many had low expectations. Mostafa Mohamed, a marketing consultant, predicted the day would follow the usual pattern of the Friday protests: “Another big millyoneya [million-man march] but I don’t expect new outcomes or results.” Similarily, university student Sherif Seif El Nasr predicted “A big useless celebration. Possibly some clashes between [among] protesters and [between] protesters and non-protesters.” Political analysts and journalists also agreed that unlike last year, January 25 won’t be a turning point for the country this year. Prominent publisher and political analyst Hisham Kassem, said that the maximum that could be expected from this day would be a huge number of people protesting in the streets. But great turning point or not, chemist and a self-proclaimed ‘revolutionary socialist’ Hatem Tallima was optimistic that the day would at least demonstrate the great political consciousness of the youth, saying, “I think it was a mistake to leave the square on February 11.” Tallima added that the revolution is not only protests and sit ins in the square but has very important economic and social aspects that need to take the labor movement into consideration.   The day of million-man marches Unlike SCAF’s predictions on January 25, there wasn’t any attempt to overthrow or burn Egypt.  In fact, throughout the day, especially in Cairo, police and military presence was almost unseen, yet the masses taking the streets remained largely peaceful. Perhaps the most significant aspect of this day was the unexpected number of people taking to the streets all across the country. Throughout the day, mainstream and social media streamed images of thousands of people marching in the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, Suez, Port Said and other cities. In the capital, anti-SCAF protests were the dominant force, with marches from every corner of Greater Cairo converging on Tahrir Square. By early afternoon, groups from Heliopolis, Maadi, Imbaba, Mohandiseen and Giza started arriving in the square, many of whom had been marching for several hours. By late afternoon, many people were reporting on social media that they couldn’t even get inside the Square due to the crowds. Some of the groups in the square chanted for a secular or civil state, a reference to the overwhelming numbers of Islamists in the newly elected Parliament. “I have never seen Kasr El Nile Bridge and Tahrir Square that packed, it is even more packed than it was last year,” said Mahmoud Torky, a protester who managed to make it into Tahrir Square. University student Dina Kamal was happy with the turnout, saying that it gave her hope that Egyptians have not forgotten the revolution. As chants against military rule echoed in the streets of Cairo, a small rally of a few hundred people gathered in Abbasseya to show their support for SCAF. Anti-SCAF chanting aside, the mood in Tahrir was festive, with families treating it almost like a picnic, complete with sweet potatoes and grilled corn cobs from street vendors. As evening progressed, however, many women in the square reported episodes of harassment. It was clear from the majority of signs and powerful chants  that January 25, 2012, was a day to remind the nation that revolution was not over. “I was happy because people didn’t want to say it was a celebration instead they were saying that the revolution was not over,” said El Aswany in a follow-up Akher Kalam appearance that evening. At midnight, there were still large numbers of people gathered in the square, with several groups reportedly calling for an open-ended sit-in. Others had moved their protests to the Radio and Television Building in nearby Maspero. “Well, we could say that the revolution will continue,” said Tweep Anas Gameel.
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