Not everyone was pleased when people in Tahrir Square revived chants of ”Peaceful! Peaceful!” that were heard nine months ago during the uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak.
A group of young men,their eyes and noses red from tear gas fired at rock-throwing protesters nearby,shook their heads.
”Enough ‘peaceful’ already!” one said Tuesday.
The latest demonstrations against the military leaders who replaced Mubarak are more explosive and violent than those in January and February — something that pro-democracy activists had warned might happen as the ruling generals stumbled in carrying out sweeping reforms.
Protesters hurl rocks and firebombs. Security forces fire tear gas,rubber bullets and bird shot. The number of wounded piles up at an average of 80 per hour. Angry cries of ”thuggery” and ”dirty government” echo among the buildings. The death toll has risen steadily.
The violence Monday and Tuesday centered around the headquarters of the Interior Ministry,which runs the police,in the side streets a few blocks from Tahrir Square.
In the earlier demonstrations,protesters rarely approached the headquarters. But in a sign of the greater aggression in the past four days,they have marched repeatedly on the building and were met by a heavy response. Police and military around the ministry fired tear gas and moved in,beating and dragging away some of the activists.
The protests have reignited as feelings arose among many Egyptians that their revolution has been undermined by the military. Trials of former regime members have stalled,the economy has deteriorated,streets are less secure,activists have been hauled before military tribunals,and the generals have been reluctant in giving an exact date for transferring power to a civilian government and parliament.
There are also complaints that little has been done to reform the security forces,which rights groups say still torture detainees. The lack of trials for those behind the deaths of about 850 people in last winter’s uprising also has led protesters to target the Interior Ministry.
Many say the violence against protesters brought them back to the square.
”We can’t accept the same humiliating,inhuman treatment by the police. Enough,” said Saad Abdel-Hamid,who showed up after work Tuesday,still in a sport coat. ”Egyptians want a real,democratic country,but we realize this won’t come easy. People are still making sacrifices every day.”
It’s clear that some of the protesters and the black-clad police — a hated symbol of the Mubarak era — are acting as if they have scores to settle from January and February.
While a feeling of uncertainty loomed over the first uprising because many Egyptians at the time thought the ouster of Mubarak to be a nearly impossible task,the Tahrir protesters this time around are determined not to leave until Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi steps down along with the rest of the generals on the ruling council.
Before the death toll started rising,protesters spoke only of their demand that power be transferred from the military council to an elected president no later than April 2012. After the deaths,they called for an immediate transfer although there is no consensus on who should receive it.
Some want a civilian council to be chosen from Tahrir. Democracy advocate Mohamed ElBaradei and Islamist moderate Abdel Moneim Aboul-Fotuh are among the names floated as members of such a council.
Politicians who try to take a stage or hold a loudspeaker are shouted down. On social network sites,activists call for setting fire to podiums and not allowing anyone to ”hijack the revolution.”
Also unwelcome is Egypt’s most organized and influential group — the Muslim Brotherhood — and its political arm. Protesters heckled and threw water bottles at the party’s spokesman,Mohammed el-Beltagi,when he visited the square Monday.
The Brotherhood refused to join the protests,saying that the parliamentary election due to start November 28 is the way to transfer power. The group is set to win more seats in parliament than any other political party.
The new dynamics in Tahrir Square began to take shape after four days of confrontations,and the determination of the protesters suggests they won’t be leaving soon — unless security forces try to clear the area.
Teams of volunteers provide medical aid,food and blankets,and motorcycles rush the wounded to field clinics. Youths in gas masks and goggles take shifts. Some have slings,while others make firebombs from soft drink bottles filled with gasoline.
A half-naked young man took his position over a charred car with an Egyptian flag in one hand as he flashed a V-for-victory sign with the other. He signaled when protesters should stand fast and when they should flee the tear gas.
A few yards (meters) of no man’s land covered with rocks and ashes separated the two sides,with protesters chanting,”Say it! Don’t be afraid! The marshal must leave!”
Tires are set ablaze so demonstrators can hide behind the thick,black smoke.
Unlike the January and February uprising,the square is not family-friendly. The crowd is mostly poor and middle class Egyptians with a grudge against military rule. Others are those wounded by police in the earlier protests and relatives of those who were killed,demanding that those responsible face justice.
Two other groups are present: violent,die-hard fans of two of Egypt’s top soccer clubs,el-Ahly and Zamalek; and ultraconservative Salafists who defied clerics’ orders to stay away from the protests.