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Egypt: Thousands Gather In Tahrir Square To Mark First Anniversary Of Uprising

Celebrations In Tahrir Square

First Posted: 01/25/2012 5:03 am Updated: 01/26/2012 6:35 am

By MAGGIE MICHAEL and SARAH EL DEEB, Associated Press

CAIRO -- Tens of thousands of Egyptians rallied Wednesday to mark the first anniversary of the country's 2011 uprising, with liberals and Islamists gathering on different sides of Cairo's Tahrir Square in a reflection of the deep political divides that emerged in the year since the downfall of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak.

Groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and their liberal and secular rivals differ over the goals of the revolution and the strategy to achieve them, in particular the relationship with the country's interim military leaders.

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Military generals led by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi took over from Mubarak when he stepped down on Feb. 11, 2011. The ousted president is now on trial for his life on charges of complicity in the killing of hundreds of protesters during the uprising.

Volunteers from the Brotherhood, a fundamentalist group that won just under half of parliament's seats in recent elections, were checking IDs and conducting searches of the thousands flocking to join the protests.

Other Brotherhood followers formed a human chain around a large podium set up overnight by the group. The Brotherhood loyalists were chanting religious songs and shouting, "Allahu Akbar," or God is great.

In contrast, liberals on the other side of the square were chanting, "Down, down with military rule," and demanding that Tantawi, Mubarak's defense minister for nearly 20 years, be executed.

"Tantawi, come and kill more revolutionaries, we want your execution," they chanted, alluding to the more than 80 protesters killed by army troops since October. Thousands of civilians, many of them protesters, have been hauled before military tribunals for trial since Mubarak's ouster.

"We are not here to celebrate. We are here to bring down military rule. They have failed the revolution and met none of its goals," said Iman Fahmy, a 27-year- old pharmacist who wore a paper eye-patch in solidarity with protesters shot in the eye by security forces during recent protests.

Fahmy was among several thousand protesters led by pro-reform leader Mohamed ElBaradei who were marching toward Tahrir Square from a neighborhood on the west bank of the river Nile. Several other marches were proceeding toward Tahrir, raising the possibility of a massive turnout at the square.

Unlike many of the demonstrators, ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace laureate, said that the immediate return of the military to the barracks was not a top priority.

"I don't think that is the issue right now. What we need to agree on is how to exactly achieve the revolution's goals starting by putting down a proper democratic constitution, fixing the economy, security and independent judiciary and media and making sure the people who have killed those people are prosecuted," he told The Associated Press.

There were no army troops or police in Tahrir Square, birthplace of the 18-day, anti-Mubarak uprising that began on Jan. 25, 2011.

Liberal and left-leaning groups behind Mubarak's ouster say that, except for putting Mubarak on trial, the generals have left the old regime largely in place. They say that the Brotherhood has tacitly accepted this, concentrating its efforts on winning parliamentary seats rather than working for the realization of the uprising's goals - social justice, democracy and freedom.

"You have the parliament, the marshal (Tantawi) is in power and the revolutionaries are in prison," a man shouted at a Brotherhood supporter carrying the blue flag of the group's political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party.

The Brotherhood is the largest single bloc in the new, 508-seat parliament, which held its inaugural session on Monday. The group's supporters have mostly stayed away from recent protests demanding the military immediately step down, arguing that it was time for elections rather than street protests.

But the liberal and leftist groups maintain that the revolution must continue until remnants of Mubarak's 29-year regime are removed from public life and government, and until those responsible for the killing of protesters are brought to justice.

"I am not here to celebrate. I am here for a second revolution," said Attiya Mohammed Attiya, a 35-year-old father of four children who is unemployed. "The military council is made of remnants of the Mubarak regime. We will only succeed when we remove them from power," said Attiya.

The Brotherhood's election win came in the nation's freest election in decades, held in stages over a six-week period starting Nov. 28. Another Islamist group, the ultraconservative Salafis, won about a quarter of the seats, while liberals and independents could only garner under 10 percent of the seats.

The Brotherhood was outlawed for most of the 84 years since its inception, subjected to repeated crackdowns by successive governments. Under Mubarak, hundreds of them were jailed on trumped-up charges.

"We are the political force that paid the heaviest price," said Alaa Mohammed, a teacher and Brotherhood supporter. "Thanks to the military council, we had the cleanest elections ever, and the military protected the revolution."

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See updates from earlier today below.

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Many of the protesters in Tahrir Square want to see an end to the rule of the country's military council. Yet opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei told the Associated Press earlier today that the power of the military is not a top priority.

El Baradei told the AP:

I don't think that is the issue right now. What we need to agree on is how to exactly achieve the revolution's goals starting by putting down a proper democratic constitution, fixing the economy, security and independent judiciary and media and making sure the people who have killed those people are prosecuted.

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Where should Egypt be heading? It is a question that strongly divides Egyptians gathered in Tahrir today.

Reuters reports:

Egyptians gathering on the Jan. 25 anniversary were in high spirits but divided between activists demanding a swift end to army rule and Islamists celebrating their dramatic change in fortunes after emerging victors in a parliamentary election.

One group of mostly youths in Tahrir stood near a street where protesters clashed in November and December with police and the army, chanting "Down with military rule" and "Revolution until victory, revolution in all of Egypt's streets".

...

On the other side of the packed Tahrir Square, a vast plaza where protesters fought fierce battles with police during the 18-day uprising last year, supporters of the once banned Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists grouped to celebrate.

"I'm very happy with the anniversary of January 25. We never dreamed of this. The revolution's victory was reaped with the elected parliament," said Khaled Mohamed, 41, a member of the Brotherhood whose Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) secured the biggest bloc in parliament after the first free vote in decades

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Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces released a statement that emphasizes the role of the country's military in the revolution, Al-Masry Al-Youm reports.

The newspaper also writes SCAF said it will reveal secrets that "will make Egyptians proud of their armed forces."

According to a translation by Al-Masry Al-Youm , SCAF wrote on its Facebook page that "One whole year has passed since the outbreak of the 25 January revolution, but it is still not the time to disclose several facts concerning the months that preceded the revolution so that it will not be said that we are trying to beautify our image... The time will come when we will talk while we are at our units protecting the land, skies and seas of Egypt. Then we will reveal several truths that will make this nation proud of its armed forces."

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Today's scenes at Cairo's Tahrir Square are impressive, but remember the images from a year ago? Take a look at HuffPost's photos from the start of the protests last year here.

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Thousands of people keep heading to Tahrir. The square is packed.

@ sharifkouddous : #Tahrir is so packed you can hardly move around http://t.co/lJIsVHYN

@ mlotfyamnesty : Tahrir as packed as when mubarak left power. A mix of celebration and of chanting against military. Syrians join in #jan25

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On the anniversary of Egypt's revolution, The New York Times takes a look at the economic challenges the country's new rulers are facing. The newspaper reports Egypt is struggling with the combined challenges of mounting debts, negligible economic growth and dwindling foreign reserves.

Click here to read the full article.

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AFP reports that Egypt would release about 3,000 prisoners to mark the anniversary of the revolution. Officials told the news service that 1,959 prisoners who were pardoned by the Field Marshall on Saturday were being released.

"Another 1,014 charged with criminal acts are also in the process of being released early for good behavior," AFP quotes an official.

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Egyptian actor Khaled Abol Naga tweets a photo of Egyptian and Syrian flags together in Tahrir:

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Robin Wright points out the plethora of eye patches at Tahrir in her latest blog post, 'The Eyes of Tahrir.'

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Egyptians hold pictures of former President Gamal Abdel Nasser and a placard that reads, in Arabic, "We did not come to celebrate, we came to continue this revolution." (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

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Leila Fadel photographs stickers at the march:
@ LeilaFadel : Stickers from Jan. 25 anniv. In red "President wanted," in blue "the people" in the seat of power http://t.co/6wHlPleZ

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Just after 3 pm in Egypt, Tahrir Square is packed. CNN's Ben Wedeman tweets:
@ bencnn : Photo: #tahrir 310 pm. Jammed. #25jan #Egypt http://t.co/5AfH4M3n

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Tens of thousands of Egyptians wave national flags during a mass rally in Cairo's Tahrir Square on January 25, 2012, marking the first anniversary of the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak as a debate raged over whether the rally was a celebration or a second push for change. (MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images)

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Less than a year after Mubarak fell from power, catch up with the ailing former dictator's ongoing trial with a timeline of events.

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Sultan Al Qassemi snaps a pic of Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who helped energize the protests last year.

@ SultanAlQassemi : Wael @Ghonim at head of the protest heading to Tahrir http://t.co/r4dK9W7D

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Filed by Jade Walker  |