Egypt: Back in Tahrir Square and Winning Victories

July 14, 2011

The Egyptian people have proven themselves to be a patient nation. They showed an active patience over the three decades of Mubarak rule, speaking out when they could but waiting for the right time to rise up in Tahrir Square and across the country to oust him.

Since the success of the Jan. 25 uprising, many in America have wondered whether the uprising died out prematurely after Mubarak’s resignation.  The pace of reform has slowed, the military regime has dragged hundreds of protesters before unfair military trials, and the New Egypt looks suspiciously like the Old Egypt.

This week, they have their answer.  Today, for the sixth straight day, thousands of Egyptians have returned to sit in Tahrir Square to demand their promised rights.  Despite public warnings from the interim military rulers, the protesters are not budging and are preparing Friday to present one of the largest protests in Egypt since Jan. 25.

This is what change looks like.  It’s not a straight line and it’s not inevitable.  But what the Egyptian people are doing is effective. One of the critical demands from the people is that the government investigate crimes by the police and security forces under the Mubarak regime.  This is a step the government hasn’t wanted to take, focusing instead on prosecuting Mubarak and a few top former regime leaders.

But the Egyptian protests forced the government on Wednesday to go farther, firing some 600 to 700 senior police officers. At least three dozen were specifically accused of being involved in the killing of protesters during the Jan. 25 uprising, according to Al Jazeera. That’s not enough, as Amnesty International’s documentation on Egypt’s corrosive security forces makes clear, but it’s a good victory, and it wouldn’t have happened without the protests. The military rulers have also acted to improve judicial transparency, particularly related to the upcoming trials of former regime members.  That’s another victory for the protesters.

A second critical demand for protesters is justice and reparations for the thousands of people injured by the Egyptian security forces, particularly in the aftermath of the Jan. 25 uprising.  A new Amnesty International video (see below) with Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, AI’s deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa Program, documents the organization’s research on police violence in the Suez and the victims’ inability to date to get justice.

The protests have also led to a resignation of an unpopular deputy prime minister.  But there has been resistance, with groups of armed men forcing their way into Tahrir Square and injuring at least eight people, according to al Jazeera.

Watch Egypt on Friday, when the protests should be the largest.  The Egyptian people haven’t forgotten what Jan. 25 was about, and if the rest of the world supports them the New Egypt may be newer and come sooner than we thought.