Jihan Hafiz reports that protesters in Cairo vow to continue even as recent elections reduced their numbers
JIHAN HAFIZ, CAIRO CORRESPONDENT, TRNN: Another Friday prayer in Tahrir Square, another day of martyrs. Thousands gathered to pray and mourn those killed in street battles with government security forces. But the numbers in Tahrir have dwindled. A week earlier, the square was packed. This day, it was mostly empty. The first round of parliamentary elections have taken the steam out of Egypt’s second uprising. During the Friday afternoon prayer, the sheikh from the state-sponsored Al Azhar Islamic Institution honored the sacrifice of those killed fighting the military regime, but the sermon seemed to undermine the struggle of those who survived by encouraging participation in the elections.
IMAM, AL AZHAR: –the first round of parliamentary elections, and you need to protect the second and third round of elections, because I demand a real revolutionary parliament, even if we were to fail in this instance.
HAFIZ: But not everyone has been convinced that the elections are the way forward. Many here reject voting when a military junta is still firmly in power, and repression has only intensified since Hosni Mubarak was ousted nine months ago.
CHANTING: The constitution must come from Tahrir. Why is there silence? Stand up with the sign of victory!
HAFIZ: Throughout the square, images of the martyrs recalled the blood that stained Cairo’s streets one week ago.
DR. AHMED IBRAHIM DOKHOURI, FATHER OF SHAHAB EDEEN DOKHOURI: My son was a businessman and had his own company. He didn’t need the state for anything. What he wanted is freedom.
HAFIZ: Dr. Ahmed Ibrahim Dokhouri says he opposed his son Shahab taking part in the recent uprising. But Shahab went to Tahrir anyway and quickly became a martyr, whose death symbolized the military regime’s brutality.
DOKHOURI: When will we feel it? After people have been shot before our eyes and their bodies were thrown in the garbage. And these were respectable people.
HAFIZ: Now Shahab’s father says he understands why his son came here, and he vows not to leave the square until the military regime is removed from power.
DOKHOURI: I say this so the whole world can hear me: if I don’t have justice for my son, I will become a terrorist. I am the head doctor of a hospital. But if I don’t get my son’s rights, I will be a terrorist. If I had a gun in my hand, I would kill the field marshal and the whole council, all of the 19 terrorists who stole this country!
HAFIZ: But opinions on elections are still divided in Tahrir. The Tahrir occupation has not only been undermined by elections, but by a relentless campaign by the state media to portray the protesters as thugs.
CHANTING: The revolutionaries are not thugs! Do you know who the thugs are? They have shields and batons.
HAFIZ: In contrast to the January 25 uprising, political parties and groups have been outlawed in the square. The Egyptians here are not political militants but come from all walks of life–workers and professionals, old and young, women and men, their determination unwavering despite the decrease in their numbers.
SHERIF MASOUB MAHMOUD, UNEMPLOYED: Some didn’t stand up for their rights for the sake of a seat in Parliament. Those people are ready to forget about what we fought for. We have nothing to cry over. We’ve left our kids over there. And if we are going to die as martyrs fighting for the truth, then the truth shall be spoken.
HAFIZ: Silent processions circle the square throughout the day.
CHANTING: If we don’t get our rights, we will die like them.
HAFIZ: Later, coffins wrapped in Egyptian flags make their way to the square and toward Mohammed Mahmoud Street–the people in Tahrir renamed it Sharia Aauun Al Horreya, or Eyes of Freedom Street, in honor the 80 people who lost their eyes in street battles with police.
HAFIZ: This is a symbolic moment for the family members of the victims of the latest Egyptian uprising. This street, Mohammed Mahmoud Street, was the location of some of the fiercest battles between government security forces and protesters. It’s been shut down for nearly a week by a human wall, and also a number of barricades, preventing demonstrators in Tahrir from coming into the streets. But on the Friday of Martyrs, makeshift coffins were brought back into Mohammed Mahmoud in memory of those who were killed in those days of fighting.
AZZA MOHAMMED MAWDA, MOTHER OF MARTYR: We are all here in support of the Revolution! They can’t say we are seated and confined. They say it won’t be repeated. They are mothers too. You’re patriotic and have given all to this country, but it’s all for nothing! Poverty has stripped us of everything!
HAFIZ: Two dozen black balloons were then released into the sky while kites flew over the coffins as the funeral procession made its way to the prime minister’s office.
SINGING: We kept talking about change. First we said step down, Mubarak. Now we say step down, Field Marshal. Step down, Tantawi and the second in charge. Down with the traitors for America. We are not afraid.
HAFIZ: There, a sit-in against the military council and its newly appointed prime minister, Kamel Ganzouri, and his upcoming cabinet continued into its eighth day. The smiling faces and names on the coffins lined the street in front the government building.
AHMED BARAKAT, TOUR GUIDE: We are here in response to the victims and martyrs, and are standing on the steps of Kamal Ganzoury because the military council has hired him.
HAFIZ: State media announced Sunday that Prime Minister Ganzoury would keep over a dozen members of the old cabinet, further evidence that concessions made by the military regime have been merely cosmetic. As the numbers in Tahrir Square drop off, the small community that has formed on this street seems to have strengthened. The reasons they give for continuing the occupation vary, but many point to economic hardship, a major factor driving the people to take to the streets both in January and again two weeks ago.
SHERIF MASOUB MAHMOUD, UNEMPLOYED: Corruption is on the economic level, making Egyptians unable to prosper and keep the country going. We have been unemployed for eight months, and we have a family and kids. Do you think it’s right that an Egyptian gets EGP 1 million, and another cannot find EGP 200 to live off? This isn’t good for society. We are only demanding for our most basic rights, to live and feed our kids.
SAFIA SAAID SHADID, MOTHER OF MARTYR: I swear to God I eat garbage. I find garbage bins and I eat from them. And I am not embarrassed. Why should I be? I’m not stealing.
HAFIZ: Others complain of an unresponsive and corrupt state that no longer provides basic social services.
ASMA AHMED, PROFESSOR, HELWAN UNIVERSITY: The bigshots in large institutions, and I know personally from the university, the heads of the colleges give the workers less than what they were making before the Revolution to put pressure on them to stay quiet. This happens in all institutions. And I’m just telling you about a fraction of the pressure imposed on Egyptian society.
HAFIZ: Some protesters are here out of desperation.
MOHAMMED ALI MOSTAPHA, SOLD HIS KIDNEY FOR MONEY: The name of the patient is Mohammed Ali Mostapha, by Dr. Hisham Ganzouri, Kamal Ganzouri’s nephew. They told me, donate your kidney to the Ganzouri Hospital and you’ll make EGP 25,000. When I went to get my money, they threw EGP 8,000 to the floor and said, “Consider yourself lucky for getting a dime! You are a cancer patient and you don’t deserve to have your own kidneys donated.” These people have millions and still do not thank God. Every day, they make money, but they are still unappreciative. I am sure they make millions. I am sure they make millions. What am I to do now? What can I do? I am really tired. I am a cancer patient and I don’t have a kidney. What else can I do? I don’t know. I thought if I donated my kidney, my five kids can survive. I am tired, I swear I am tired.
HAFIZ: It is one of countless heartbreaking stories here, shedding light on why people were willing to stand down bullets and tear gas and why they continue to stay in the streets.
AHMED BARAKAT, TOUR GUIDE: These people gave their life away so we can survive. We now say a prayer for the martyrs.
HAFIZ: Jihan Hafiz for The Real News in Cairo, Egypt.
End of Transcript
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