CAIRO — Several thousand Egyptians marched to Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday ahead of the one-year anniversary of the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak, demanding justice and retribution for those killed in clashes with security forces.
Activists have organized the demonstrations as part of a week of "mourning and anger" around the Jan. 25 anniversary to rally support for their call to end military rule. They say the generals who took power after Mubarak's fall have continued policies just as authoritarian and abusive as those of the toppled regime.
The military has tried to counter what some protesters have dubbed "the second revolution" by using state-run media to accuse protesters of receiving foreign funding to destabilize Egypt and by calling for celebrations on the one-year anniversary of the uprising to boost the military's image as the nation's true patriots.
While many Egyptians support the army and believe it is the only entity able to run the country until presidential elections slated before the end of June, activists say that the ruling generals, led by Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, are trying to derail the democratic process and want to hold on to power.
President Barack Obama spoke on the telephone Friday with Tantawi, who served as Mubarak's defense minister for 20 years, to emphasize Washington's support for Egypt's democratic transition. The call comes just weeks after Egyptian security forces stormed offices of non-governmental organizations, including three U.S.-based groups funded by the State Department, and accused them of using pro-democracy funds to foment violent protests.
Obama stressed that such groups "should be able to operate freely," the White House said in a statement.
Activists slammed the raids and pointed to Egypt's own military, which receives nearly one billion dollars a year in foreign assistance from the U.S.
With the military eager to capitalize on the anniversary, activists say they will use the occasion as a day to continue protests and push for an end to military rule.
On Friday, protesters in Cairo set out from different neighborhoods in the city of some 18 million people and descended on Tahrir Square, which served as the epicenter of the 18-days of protests that pushed Mubarak from power on Feb. 11.
Shaimaa Zein, a 24-year old protester in Tahrir wearing a scarf in the colors of the Egyptian flag, held a sign demanding the military be held accountable for the deaths of 100 people who have been killed in clashes with security forces since the generals took over from Mubarak.
"When we went down on Jan. 25, people were against us at first and then they called us the generation that broke barriers when Mubarak resigned," she said. "But the dictatorship is the same."
Women also marched through central Cairo demanding Egypt's ruling military step down in a continued show of outrage against soldiers who dragged women by the hair and stomped on them during a fierce crackdown on activists last month.
One protester in Tahrir carried a poster depicting the former president with a noose around neck, echoing a demand by some that Mubarak be executed for the deaths of more than 800 protesters killed during the revolt.
Mubarak, his ex-security chief Habib el-Adly and four top security officers are charged with complicity in the killings of the protesters, and could face the death penalty if convicted.
Activists say that court officials have generally been lax with police officers accused of shootings during the uprising, allowing many to stay on the job while facing murder charges and setting others free on bail.
Only one policeman has been convicted in more than a dozen court cases over the deaths of at least 846 people killed in the government crackdown on protesters. He was tried in absentia and upon his return to Egypt recently was granted a retrial.
By contrast, human rights activists say that minor offenders and protesters are referred to military tribunals – known for quick and harsh sentences without proper due process.
The military oversaw Egypt's recent elections, in which Islamist groups won nearly 70 percent of parliament's 498 seats. The vote was deemed the freest and fairest in Egypt's modern history.
The White House statement said that Obama welcomed the historic seating of the lower house of Egypt's Parliament, which is set to convene for the first time Jan. 23, as an "important step towards democracy."