Around 2,000 protesters defied an army demand to quit Cairo’s Tahrir Square Monday, vowing to stay until Egypt’s ruling military council heeds their demand for civilian rule and a deeper purge of corrupt officials.
There was little to suggest the army was preparing to take back control of the sprawling square Monday morning.
At the square, the focus of the 18-day revolt that ended Mubarak’s three-decade rule, protesters stood holding Egyptian flags.
The site was strewn with piles of garbage and the shells of army trucks torched during the latest protests.
“The challenge is keeping the square occupied with protesters from now till Friday,” said Ismail Ahmad, a protester and activist.
“Opposition forces have said they will rally in Tahrir this Friday, so we are not worried.”
The continued occupation of Tahrir, a major thoroughfare, is irritating some in the traffic-choked city.
“I passed by the square and all I saw were unemployed youths bumming around,” said Ali Abdullah, owner of a shop near Tahrir. He called the demonstrators “a bunch of slackers with nothing to do but cause trouble.”
About 20 military police approached one entrance to the square and demanded the protesters leave.
Their call went unheeded.
The protesters said their numbers would grow throughout the day as activists encourage students at university campuses to join them in the square.
“We expect thugs to slip into the square and break up our ranks. So we must be vigilant,” said protester Mohammad Fahmy.
A coalition of nine Egyptian human rights groups condemned what it called the military’s use of live ammunition against protesters in Tahrir at the weekend, describing the events as “a dangerous precedent” that requires an immediate investigation.
Some Egyptians called for the Tahrir protest to stop, saying it was obstructing normal life and damaging the economy.
“Those remaining in Tahrir are not protesting for Egypt’s sake. They have nothing to do and are putting on a show,” said Sawosan Mahmoud, a 45-year-old mother of three who lives near the square. “Their stubbornness is harming the country.”
Others said the protest seemed to have lost momentum since Sunday when Egypt’s public prosecutor summoned Mubarak as part of investigations into the killing of protesters and the embezzlement of public funds.
Meanwhile, an Egyptian military court Monday jailed a blogger for three years for criticizing the armed forces, his lawyer told.
“We were … very surprised to hear that [Maikel Nabil] was sentenced to three years,” said Gamel Eid, the head of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information.
The verdict is likely to cause concern to Egypt’s large network of bloggers who had hoped the overthrow of Mubarak would usher in a new era of freedom of expression.
Last week, Human Rights Watch called for the charges to be dropped.
“This trial sets a dangerous precedent at a time when Egypt is trying to transition away from the abuses of the Mubarak era,” said HRW’s Middle East and North Africa director Sarah Leah Whitson.
Separately, Arab League chief Amr Moussa, a leading contender to become Egypt’s next president, said Islamists will not take power in the country but are bound to be a player on the political scene.
“There will be an Islamic element – or an element based on an Islamic reference, as the constitution says – in Egypt’s political body,” Moussa told newspaper Al-Hayat in remarks printed Monday. “Radical Islamist groups are too weak to pounce on power.”
Separately, Egypt nominated a career diplomat and former assistant to Mubarak to be the next head of the Arab League, replacing Moussa, the foreign minister said Monday.
Mostafa al-Fekki, 67, served as information assistant to Mubarak until 1992, according to a curriculum vitae published on his Facebook page.
“Fekki’s diplomatic experience makes him the most suitable to occupy the position of Arab League secretary general at this critical stage of the League’s history,” Foreign Minister Nabil Elaraby said in a statement. Agencies