CAIRO, Egypt – Tens of thousands of Egyptian protesters gathered in Tahrir Square on Friday, calling for greater political reform just two weeks after the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, in a sign that many in Egypt believe their revolution is far from over.
Demonstrators demanded an end to the leadership of Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik, a staunch ally of the former president.
Bright pink stickers were distributed in Tahrir reading “Shafik = Old Regime” in both Arabic and English.
We will stay here until Shafik leaves,” said Hatem Amin, 34, an activist protester. “He is a part of the old regime, and just as corrupt as Mubarak.”
The throng of peaceful demonstrators stopped the flow of traffic in Cairo’s normally jam-packed city center, mounting additional pressure on an interim government eager to end unrest in the Arab world’s largest nation.
Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has been ruling the country since Mubarak’s ouster on February 11, has struggled restore stability following weeks of protests and widespread strikes.
Workers throughout Egypt have challenged management in several sectors over the past two weeks, closing factories and bringing some public transportation to a grinding halt. From doctors to Suez Canal employees, Egyptian workers have been seeking higher wages and increased benefits, despite repeated calls by the military to stop striking.
Egypt’s stock exchange announced that it would not reopen until next week at the earliest. The market — which will have been shut for the entire month of February — lost around $12 billion in two days of trading when the unrest first erupted in January.
Several protests, sometimes violent, have flared up in other parts of Egypt as well.
Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets of Maadi, an upscale, tree-lined neighborhood just south of Egypt’s capital, to protest police violence on Thursday.
Angry youths torched two security vehicles following a police shooting of a microbus driver in Maadi, according to eyewitnesses.
A verbal altercation between the policeman and the driver attracted a crowd of onlookers and resulted in several shots being fired into the air, one of which struck the driver, according to local reports.
Dozens of young men then apprehended the policeman, beat him nearly unconscious, and jumped on the roofs of the charred security trucks.
“We just have the feeling that nothing has changed,” said Rania Yehya, 34, a Maadi resident. “It’s injustice. Police officers are acting just like they did before the revolution.”
Egypt’s feared police force was a primary target during the country’s recent uprising.
Brutal crackdowns and corruption from the security services have led to a perceived sense of police impunity — much of which is believed to be sanctioned by Egypt’s emergency law.
In Tahrir Square on Friday, thousands called for the breakup of the country’s state security apparatus and chanted against the draconian emergency law — which has been in place continuously since 1981.
“Our country should not be in a state of emergency right now. Why is it necessary?” asked 49-year-old protester Adel Abdel Aziz. It’s not like Egypt is in a war with anyone right now.”
Most activists chanting in Tahrir spent Friday, dubbed a “Day of Cleansing,” railing against several Mubarak-era holdovers in Egypt’s cabinet, including the ministers of foreign affairs, finance, and justice.
This week, Egypt’s ruling military council swore in 12 new members to the interim cabinet to appease the pro-reformers. The changes, however, were not enough for the thousands screaming in Tahrir on Friday.
“No to corruption!” yelled one man through a distorted megaphone blaring out around the square.
Egypt's new army leadership has also been desperately trying to restore the appearance of transparency of government. On Thursday, Egypt’s former information minister was arrested, the latest prominent figure from Mubarak’s regime to be either detained or banned from travel on charges of corruption and wrongdoing.
Earlier this week, two former ministers and a leading member of the president’s ruling party — steel magnate Ahmed Ezz — were brought to a Cairo criminal court wearing white prison jumpsuits. Hundreds gathered outside the Cairo courthouse to jeer the three men before the start of their corruption trial.
But protesters want Egypt's cabinet to be completely purged of all former symbols of Mubarak's regime.
“There are still more corrupt people and institutions that need to be tried,” said protester Abdel Aziz Hegaza. “The only way we can get rid of corruption is by appointing new leaders — not ones from Mubarak’s time.”
Some in Tahrir questioned whether Egypt's military leadership is staying on schedule to enact political reform with free and fair elections within the coming six months.
Despite the uncertainty, the mood in Tahrir was just as festive as any other during Egypt’s recent 18-day uprising.
Protesters cheered and clapped, hoisting red, white, and black Egyptian flags into the smog-filled air.
Guitar-players belted out songs of freedom and change, while vendors strolled through the square hawking flags and placards with images of those killed during recent unrest.
Coffee and tea sellers in Tahrir were quick to capitalize on the resurgence of large, thirsty crowds in downtown Cairo, offering a new drink called “revolution tea.”