Despite a scare campaign in the official media — and most of the liberal media as well — aimed at steering people away from the protests, the turnout was huge in Cairo, and even bigger in Egypt’s other main city of Alexandria, where at least 500,000 people marched. Tens of thousands rallied in Suez, Port Said, Mansoura and many other cities.
In Tahrir, the militant crowd spent the day chanting, listening to speeches, and engaging in lively discussions about the nature of the revolution, and what should be done about the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the military body that has ruled Egypt since Mubarak’s ouster. The spirit of revolution was in the air — the demonstration was reminiscent of Tahrir in the days before Mubarak’s fall.
Families of the martyrs and those injured in the uprising spoke at the rallies, and victims of military torture and the regime’s tribunals told their stories. Speaker after speaker talked about how the Supreme Council is trying to contain the masses’ demands for democracy and equality, and the revolution must continue.
The new Friday of Anger on May 27 announced that the struggle is continuing in Egypt, but now, it is against the country’s military rulers who have refused to grant many of the revolution’s demands for democracy and who have tried to demobilize the movement through a combination of some concessions and reforms and renewed repression.
The future of Egypt’s struggle will depend on whether the forces that participated on May 27 can continue to meet the urgent task of bringing wider layers of people into the fight–and build an alternative to the Supreme Council and its supporters, including the liberal organizations that were once sympathetic to the revolution.
**A RALLY RESHAPES**
In the two weeks prior to the May 27 rallies, the issue of support for or opposition to the planned demonstrations dominated the media and polarized the country.
On the one hand, the Supreme Council issued press statements insinuating that some organizers of the protests intended to foment chaos and civil war. The media, both official and liberal, mainly toed the line of the Council — many reporters and commentators claimed the protesters are actually planning an armed uprising, rather than a peaceful demonstration.
Rumors spread that thugs and provocateurs would carry out widespread of acts of vandalism, that banks would close their ATMs, and that Hardee’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken would close their Tahrir Square franchises Friday in anticipation of rioting. Multinational firms sent e-mails to employees telling them to avoid going near protest spots.
On the day before the protest, police arrested three activists for distributing leaflets and posters critical of the Supreme Council, and handed them over to the military, which in turn detained them for 12 hours.
The powerful Muslim Brotherhood organization, whose members participated in the revolutionary uprising back in January and February, declared its opposition to the rally.
It issued a statement in support of the Supreme Council in which it denounced May 27 organizers as “counterrevolutionary,” and accused them of conspiring against the army. In Alexandria, Brotherhood supporters launched a red-baiting campaign, distributing thousands of leaflets that accused anyone who would demonstrate against the Supreme Council as being “communists and secularists” — code words for those who would propagate atheism.
Other more hard-line fundamentalist groups — known collectively as Salafists — also declared that they would not participate in the demonstration.
But organizers for the Friday of Anger also had reasons for feeling emboldened in the days before May 27. One critical factor was the Supreme Council’s concession on the prosecution of Mubarak.
In April, in response to tremendous popular pressure, the Supreme Council announced that Mubarak would go on trial for corruption and theft — his sons have also been accused. But the Council refused to make him stand trial on more serious charges of killing peaceful protesters. This dodged the issue of having to put the handcuffs on their former boss — Mubarak was allowed to remain under treatment for a heart condition in a five-star hospital in the posh tourist destination of Sharm el-Sheikh.
But the move was rejected among the mass of the population — and thus, in an unexpected move, Egypt’s attorney general announced on May 24 that Mubarak would go on trial for conspiring with the former Interior Minister to kill more than 865 people and injure thousands of others during the revolutionary uprising from its beginning on January 25 until Mubarak’s resignation on February 11.
The Supreme Council’s change of heart to try Mubarak for murder and not just financial corruption was typical of previous concessions to mass pressure since it took power in February.
First, the Council drags its feet and tries to shield corrupt and brutal businessmen and politicians as long as it can, so as to salvage as much of the old regime as possible. Then, when millions begin to question why the army is being so soft Mubarak-era figures and threats of marches and protests in Tahrir and elsewhere after Friday prayers begin to grow, the Council hastens to make concessions in an attempt to absorb popular outrage.
In this case, organizations frustrated with the Council’s timidity in holding trials for Mubarak and his entourage planned a new protest for May 27 — called the “Second Friday of Anger” in reference to the mass demonstrations that shook the Mubarak regime on Friday, January 28 and on a weekly basis in the days that followed. But this time, the protesters’ target would be the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
In the days immediately leading up to the rally, aside from the arrest of the three activists, the government adopted a more conciliatory tone toward the protests. The Council announced that it respected the right to peaceful protest and vowed that the military would never open fire on the Egyptian people. Also, Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf declared that workers’ frustration over low wages was legitimate, and that he unconditionally supports peaceful protests.
Organizers of the Friday of Anger said they were demanding that the Supreme Council: 1) try Mubarak for murder; 2) end the use of military trials against activists and revolutionaries; 3) abandon its authoritarian monopoly over major issues in the transition to a democratic system; and 4) begin a process of redistributing the country’s wealth toward the poor by setting a living minimum wage.
The demonstrations were a huge success — and, considering all the attempts to derail them, a blow to the Council and its supporters, including the Muslim Brotherhood.
In spite of the absence of the Brotherhood, the rallies were the largest show of force in weeks by left and liberal forces in the country that support a continued struggle for real democracy and social justice.
In the early hours of Friday, young people who organized themselves in public safety committees secured the entrances to Tahrir Square, as had happened during the early days of the revolution — searching participants to weed out provocateurs or thugs. As the day wore on, speaker after speaker talked about the failures of the military to honor the demands of the revolution, and declared their opposition to military trials and the “kid gloves” treatment that Mubarak and his cronies have gotten.
The crowd chanted over and over about the Muslim Brotherhood’s betrayal: “Where is the Brotherhood? Here is Tahrir!” The protests all ended peacefully, with thousands reserving the right to come back and reoccupy Tahrir in the future if necessary.
On Saturday morning, all the newspapers and TV stations had to report on the large size of the turnout and the peaceful nature of the mobilizations. Millions who were subjected to a weeklong campaign of scaremongering discovered that those who organized the rally had the best interests of the revolution at heart.
**By Mostafa Omar**
This is an abridged version of a report first published in Socialist Worker on May 31, 2011: [http://socialistworker.org/print/2011/05/31/new-shape-of-the-struggle](http://socialistworker.org/print/2011/05/31/new-shape-of-the-struggle)