CAIRO – The ruling military pledged Saturday to eventually hand power to an elected civilian government and reassured allies that Egypt will abide by its peace treaty with Israel after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, as it outlined the first cautious steps in a promised transition to greater democracy.
Protesters and the young organizers of the popular movement that pushed Mubarak out of power, still riding high on jubilation over their success, began to press their vision for how to bring reform. Their first question to resolve: Whether to continue their demonstrations.
A coalition of the organizers called for their massive protest camp entrenched for nearly three weeks in Cairo‘s central Tahrir Square to end, as a gesture to the military. Still, they called for large-scale demonstrations every Friday to keep up pressure for change. Others in the crowds still in Tahrir, however, insisted the constant protests should continue.
At the same time, the coalition put forward their first cohesive list of demands for the next stage, focussed on ensuring they — not just the military and members of Mubarak’s regime — have a voice in shaping a new democratic system.
Among their demands: creation of a presidential council, made up of a military representative and two “trusted personalities”; the dissolving of the ruling party-dominated parliament; and the forming of a broad-based unity government and a committee to either amend or rewrite completely the constitution.
Tahrir, or Liberation, Square was the scene of wild partying all night long by Egyptians after the announcement Friday night that Mubarak had resigned and handed power to the military. Thousands streamed in during the day Saturday to continue celebrations.
They also sent a symbolic signal of their continued ambitions to rebuild a new nation. They started cleaning up the square, which had been trashed by 18 days of turmoil that included battles with police and regime-backed gangs. Moreover, a virtual tent town had been set up there, complete with tents, clinics and other facilities for the thousands who have camped there overnight.
“The day of beautifying Tahrir Square,” a giant banner in the black-red-and-white colors of the national flag read. Broom brigades fanned out, with young men and women — some in stylish clothes and earrings — sweeping up rubble from the days of fighting and garbage from the days of rallying. Piles of trash were packed into bags. Young veiled girls painted the metal
railings of fences along the sidewalk.
Others tried to reassemble sidewalks and pavements that fellow protesters had torn up to chop into ammunition in the brutal street battles with pro-regime gangs. Burnt-out vehicles used a barricades were towed away. In that fighting, the two sides threw just about everything heavy they could find at each other for 48 hours — chunks of concrete, metal rails and rebar, bricks and stones, as well as firebombs.
“We are cleaning the square now because it is ours,” said Omar Mohammed, a 20-year-old student. “After living here for three weeks, it has become our home … We’re going to leave it better than before.”