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Updated: February 12, 2011 23:51 IST

Protesters want to hang on despite Mubarak's exit

Atul Aneja
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TEARS OF JOY: An Egyptian woman at a
AFP TEARS OF JOY: An Egyptian woman at a "Global Day of Action for Egypt" event in Sydney on Saturday.

The euphoria triggered by the fall on Friday of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's dictator for 30 years, is refusing to die down as millions of optimistic Egyptians look forward to building a more decent future for themselves.

But many activists at Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the pro-democracy movement, are heatedly debating tactics to further substantiate their spectacular but unfinished revolution. The debate is essentially between two options: Should the protesters persist without breaking momentum or, with Mr. Mubarak's departure, de-escalate their campaign to allow negotiations that the all-powerful military is promising to steer to bear fruit? Wael Ghonim, the cyber activist from Google whose electrifying presence at Tahrir Square after his release from custody earlier this week went a long way in sustaining the uprising, has gone a step further by suggesting on Saturday that the protesters should, without delay, get back to work. Posted on his Twitter account was the message: “Dear Egyptians, Go back to your work on Sunday [the first working day in the Arab world], work like never before and help Egypt become a developed country”.

But in cyberspace, which has emerged as a parallel arena where the future of the revolution is being energetically debated, Mr. Ghonim's Tweeted advocacy is facing considerable flak.

Drawing an analogy with the statement by George Bush, the former President of the United States, when he had prematurely declared that the Iraq war had been won, a netizen observed: “The ‘Mission Accomplished' people on Twitter, you are gravely mistaken. By asking the people to trust Mubarak's Generals you are digging our graves.”

Calling for an escalation of protests, social activist and blogger, Hossam El-Hamalavy, observed that the higher echelons of the military, now in charge of steering Egypt's political transition, cannot simply be trusted. “While we have great respect for the young officers and soldiers with us at Tahrir Square who refused to fire at us, we know that the Generals are not our friends,” he said.

The young Egyptian blogger's misgivings that the military top brass, status quoist and conservative, is ill-suited to usher in modern democracy in Egypt, are also borne out by some of the cables released by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks. One of the cables, released in March 2008, describes Field Marshall, Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the Defence Minister, and now the head of the governing Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, as being “opposed both [to] economic and political reforms that he perceives as eroding central government power.” The cable tellingly adds: “He [general Tantawi] and Mubarak are focused on regime stability and maintaining the status quo through the end of their time. They simply do not have the energy, inclination or world view to do anything differently.”

At Tahrir Square, another protester calling for more activism said Mr. Mubarak's exit from the presidency meant “the dictator is gone but the dictatorship remains”. He asserted the fight to secure the revolution is also a fight for personal survival. Activists say the country's emergency laws which have provided, however dubious, the legal underpinnings for arbitrary arrests, torture and other gross human rights violations, must be dismantled urgently to prevent the new custodians of the regime from turning upon them. The call for a comprehensive purge within the ranks of the infamous state security apparatus, which served as a reliable tool of the Mubarak regime to crush dissent, is also ringing loud and clear from Tahrir Square. The military command now says that “emergency law”, would soon be removed. But not everyone in the square is listening or any longer willing to wait.

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