CAIRO — Thousands of Egyptians rallied Wednesday to mark the first anniversary of the country's 2011 uprising, with liberals and Islamists gathering on different sides of Cairo's Tahrir Square in a reflection of the deep political divides that developed in the country in the year that followed the downfall of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak.
Groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and their liberal and secular rivals differ over both the goals of the revolution and the strategy to achieve them, in particular the relationship with the country's new military leaders.
Volunteers from the Brotherhood, a fundamentalist group that won just under half of parliament's seats in recent elections, were checking IDs and conducting searches of the thousands flocking to join the protests.
Other Brotherhood followers formed a human chain around a large podium set up overnight by the group. The Brotherhood loyalists were chanting religious songs and shouting, "Allahu Akbar," or God is great.
In contrast, liberals on the other side of the square were chanting, "Down, down with military rule," and demanding that military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi be executed.
"Tantawi, come and kill more revolutionaries, we want your execution," they chanted, alluding to the more than 80 protesters killed by army troops since October. Thousands of civilians, many of them protesters, have been hauled before military tribunals for trial since Mubarak's ouster.
There were no army troops or police in Tahrir Square, birthplace of the 18-day, anti-Mubarak uprising that began on Jan. 25, 2011.
Military generals led by Tantawi took over from Mubarak when he stepped down on Feb. 11, 2011. The ousted president is now on trial for his life on charges of complicity in the killing of hundreds of protesters during the uprising.
But the liberal and left-leaning groups behind Mubarak's ouster say that beyond that, the generals have left the old regime largely in place — and that the Brotherhood has tacitly accepted this, concentrating its efforts on winning parliamentary seats rather than working for the realization of the uprising's goals — social justice, democracy and freedom.
"You have the parliament, the marshal (Tantawi) is in power and the revolutionaries are in prison," a man shouted at a Brotherhood supporter carrying the blue flag of the group's political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party.
The Brotherhood leads the Islamist domination of the new, 508-seat parliament, which held its inaugural session on Monday. The group's supporters have mostly stayed away from recent protests demanding the military immediately step down, arguing that it was time for elections rather than street protests.
But the liberal and leftist groups maintain that the revolution must continue until remnants of Mubarak's 29-year regime are removed from public life and government, and until those responsible for the killing of protesters are brought to justice.Comment on this story
"I am not here to celebrate. I am here for a second revolution," said Attiya Mohammed Attiya, a 35-year-old father of four children who is unemployed. "The military council is made of remnants of the Mubarak regime. We will only succeed when we remove them from power," said Attiya.
The Brotherhood's election win came in the nation's freest election in decades, held in stages over a six-week period starting Nov. 28. Another Islamist group, the ultraconservative Salafis, won about a quarter of the seats, while liberals and independents could only garner under 10 percent of the seats.
The Brotherhood was outlawed for most of the 84 years since its inception, subjected to repeated crackdowns by successive governments. Under Mubarak, hundreds of them were jailed on trumped-up charges.
"We are the political force that paid the heaviest price," said Alaa Mohammed, a teacher and Brotherhood supporter. "Thanks to the military council, we had the cleanest elections ever, and the military protected the revolution."