I went down to Tahrir Square today to see who would come to a snap demonstration called on Facebook. It was protesting the fact that the military has still not fired some members of the old regime from the cabinet, including the Prime Minister, Ahmed Shafiq.
This demo was not endorsed by the coalition of young leaders that have emerged from the revolution. It erupted because some stalwarts of the 18-day battle in Tahrir Square feared that the momentum of the revolution will be lost if old faces are still on the job, and mistrust the plans the army has made to transit back to civilian rule. So they posted a call on Facebook and 20,000 signed up. Voila! The demo was on, but only a few thousand showed up, and it led to debates over what the demonstrators should do next: try to hold the army’s feet to the fire, or trust them to do what is best for the country.
Last night, on a widely watched talk show, three generals who are part of the army council that is the real power during this transitional phase said bluntly that they wanted the demonstrations to stop. As I walked around the square I heard people arguing over this idea, like the two young men Sherif and Mahmoud, in the photo with this post. They are smiling in the picture, but they had been really going at it before, and didn’t want that picture used.
Sherif, on the right said "The revolution has succeeded in 90 per cent of its goals, and we're in a transition period, so why not give Prime Minister Shafiq a chance?"
Mahmoud, an engineer, answered back: "These are criminals of the last regime." He fears that the army's plan to hold parliamentary and then presidential elections within six months won't give the revolutionaries enough time to organize parties and educate voters. This will ensure that most seats are won by the old governing party (under a new name) and the Muslim Brotherhood, which is well organized. Prime Minister Shafiq is an ex-military man, and Mahmoud believes these are the types that the army will encourage in the new era.
"We need at least one year" he said to help ordinary people understand their civic rights and what they need to do to elect people who will guarantee them. Otherwise, Mahmoud fears, the tremendous energy and civic spirit generated by the revolution will be lost.
I will write more about the struggle over the direction of Egypt's revolution in my column.