This past Friday, my wife (and fellow peace activist) Karen Jacob and I participated in a huge pro-democracy rally in Tahrir Square. The demonstration was completely peaceful and much larger than those we witnessed earlier in the week.
The huge throng filled the entire Square and was reminiscent of the historic mass mobilizations in February that brought down the Mubarak dictatorship. The rally was announced as a ‘million man march’ and was backed of a broad cross section of Egyptian activist groups, from liberal secularists to conservative Islamists. The Muslim Brotherhood did not support the march, although many of its youth members joined the crowd. The rally had a positive and hopeful spirit, in sharp contrast to the earlier violent clashes, which we witnessed on November 20.
The atmosphere in the Square on Friday was almost festive. We saw families with children, vendors selling food and drinks, face-painting on children (and thanks to a group of laughing teenagers, painted hands) and everywhere we saw the red, white, and black stripes of the Egyptian flag. It was a diverse crowd, young and old, women and men, middle class and the very poor. We were welcomed and greeted warmly by many.
The crowd was friendly but determined in its commitment to fulfill the promise of the revolution. There were no speeches, but constant chanting rose from groups throughout the Square, all with a similar message: Military rule must end.
“How long will you stay in the Square,” we asked a young woman. “Until the generals leave power,” she replied. “The military should defend the nation not rule it,” said one of the many hand-written posters. An older man explained that the generals who took charge in February have lost their legitimacy and must step aside in favor of civilian democratic government.
Where the revolution goes from here is uncertain. The military council is digging in its heels and refuses to step down. It has appointed a new civilian Prime Minister, Kamal el-Ganzouri, a Mubarak-era apparatchik, but it refuses to accept independent civilian leadership. The generals have issued 'guiding principles' for the democratic transition that assert their right to veto constitutional provisions and exempt the military from parliamentary authority.
The democracy movement will not accept this. It has been reawakened by the events of the past week and will not relent until the military steps aside in favor of a fully empowered civilian interim government—one that can shepherd the country through the parliamentary elections that are now beginning, the constitution-writing process that will follow, and the presidential elections that all hope will complete the democratic transition, bringing to power Egypt’s first popularly elected civilian leader.
David Cortright, a Sojourners contributing writer, is director of policy studies at Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. His books include Ending Obama’s War: Responsible Military Withdrawal from Afghanistan (Paradigm Publishers, 2011).