CAIRO — Protesters held a mock trial of Hosni Mubarak, his family and his top aides in Cairo's central Tahrir Square where tens of thousands of Egyptians massed demanding the ruling military prosecute them for alleged corruption in one of the country's largest rallies since the longtime president was ousted two months ago.
The heavy turnout reflected growing frustration with what activists see as the slowness of Egypt's new military rulers to punish top former figures in Mubarak's regime. "Execution, execution," some in the square chanted as others accused the army of protecting Mubarak and giving immunity to his family, a claim the military denies.
More than in previous protests, chants and banners Friday directly criticized the military's Supreme Council, headed by Defense Minister Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, a former Mubarak loyalist. "The injured in the revolution are asking: Tantawi, are you a guard for Mubarak?" read one banner stretched above the crowd with picture of Tantawi. Another big read, "O Military council, tell the truth: are you with us or not?"
Trying to assuage the public anger, the military appeared to be trying to accelerate the prosecution. Authorities announced Thursday that Mubarak's former chief of staff, Zakariya Azmi, had been detained for questioning on corruption allegations, the highest-ranking member of his regime to be arrested so far. But so far, there has been no move against Mubarak himself, or his son Gamal, who was widely seen as his choice as successor.
Since his ouster on Feb. 11, Mubarak and his family have been under house arrest at a presidential palace in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, their assets frozen.
On a stage in Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the 18 days of protests that led to his ouster, protesters set up a cage with the pictures of Mubarak, his family and top aides inside.
An activist read out charges against them, and the crowd responded, "We testify that Mubarak, his family and their cronies have corrupted Egypt, politically, economically, impoverished the people and committed crimes of torture and killings."
"He lives in a palace and our poor still in the shanty towns," one protester chanted in a microphone at the square. "We are not leaving here until Mubarak is on trial," another speaker vowed.
Corruption was widespread under Mubarak's 29-year-rule, and anger over it particularly accelerated in the last years of his rule, as Gamal — an investment banker-turned-politician — rose to prominence and brought into power a group of millionaire tycoons who implemented a program of economic liberalization. Several of those businessmen-politicians are now on trial or under investigation for allegedly using their positions to amass personal fortunes.
But Egyptians insist the corruption goes right to the top.
One protester in the crowd, 51-year-old Ahmed Dessouqi, accused the military council of going after the small fish rather than the bosses.
"The council is incapable of going against Mubarak. They started with the tail without touching the head. Can that work?" he said. "Mubarak was the one who appointed the members of this council, and this is why they delay his prosecution."
Yasser Ibrahim, a 35-year-old teacher, charged that "Mubarak is controlling the country from Sharm el-Sheikh through his prosecutor general and Tantawi."
"Why all the governors are still in place?" he said, referring to the provincial governors, most of them military men, who were appointed by Mubarak and have kept their posts since his fall.
Since Mubarak's fall, the unprecedented youth movement that ousted him has seen some fragmentation, as the military pushed ahead with a quick timetable for new parliament and presidential elections to be held in September and November. That has sent various factions scrambling to get organized to contest the vote.
But the corruption issue provides a unifying theme that resonates among most Egyptians. It's not just financial malfeasance —many Egyptians also want to see the leadership punished for years of political repression, including widespread vote fraud during elections and security crackdowns.
Protesters said that the announcement of the Azmi prosecution was part of a pattern — on the day before a big protest rally, a decision to prosecute someone is announced, apparently in hopes of defusing public anger.
"It is clear now that no demands are met except under pressure," said Mohammed Abbas, a member of the coalition of youth activists who organized the 18-day wave of mass demonstrations that forced Mubarak out of power. "Mubarak is the one who stole our money. Why is he still in Sharm el-Sheikh?"
Prosecutor Assem al-Gawhari told the state-run news agency on Thursday that former chief of staff Azmi was detained for 15 days for questioning on using his position to amass a fortune. Azmi was considered Mubarak's trusted right-hand man. Authorities also said investigators would begin questioning another senior regime insider, former ruling party chief, Safwat el-Sharif.Comment on this story
Days earlier, Egypt's former housing minister, Mohammed Ibrahim Suleiman, was arrested on suspicion he was involved in the illegal sale of state lands for cut-rate prices.
But protesters said that was not enough without Mubarak.
"The past 30 years have created a thick layer of corruption. It is still there despite everything and it is still untouched," retired armed forces officer Mahmoud Hanafi said. "And slow justice is in itself unjust."
Another, a women in her 60s, said she won't accept compromises.
"Mubarak must be executed along with his son," Ragia Mahmoud said. "This is what I want to see happening right now."