Conflict & Justice

One week after the fall of Mubarak

By Ben Gilbert

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

Tens of thousands of people continued to celebrate in Cairo's Tahrir, or Liberation, Square on Friday. They were celebrating one week since former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down. And honoring the people who were killed during the nearly-three-week uprising.

Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi gave the sermon at Friday's prayer service in the square.

The sheikh is close to the long-banned Muslim Brotherhood, and had been in semi-exile in Qatar for 30 years. The speech was said to be his first public speech in Egypt since 1981.

Qaradawi immediately sought to reassure Egypt's Coptic Christian minority. He addressed the crowd as "Dear Muslims, Copts, Dear Egyptians." He praised the protesters at Tahrir square, but warned that the revolution was not over.

He called for the Army to free all political prisoners and to get rid of the cabinet formed by Mubarak in the last weeks of his presidency. And he called on the military "not to betray its own people," and to maintain the "legitimacy the people demand."
Sharia law

Perhaps due to Qaradawi's attendance, today's crowd was outwardly more conservative than previous rallies. And that led today to discussions about what direction Egypt should take. Munir Nasr Mohammad is a school teacher from Cairo. He said some aspects of Islamic Sharia law would be good for Egypt.

"I accept some of the teaching of the teachings of the Sharia — like cutting the hand for some crimes," he said.

Omar Attaya, an engineering student, disagreed. He said the constitution could be based on Sharia law, but he rejected some of the more extreme elements in it. He wants a country more like Canada — where people can be free to express themselves.

"You can't cut the wrist of anyone, that's against the rules of this age," Attaya said. "Islam is much more flexible than we think. You can make the rules, put them in jail. A usual state, a liberated state, is going to be so good, that's what I 'm calling for. "
Freedom is born

Nearby, a group of Egyptians chanted "come on country, freedom is born! We're a great people and they are thieves!" Many Egyptians here said they want the money that corrupt politicians and their cronies stole to be returned. Nada Hayney, a law student, and her friend, Samaha Abdelaziz, a pharmacist, were chanting along. And they had a message for the other protestors in the region:

"I want to tell Bahrain and Libya, they must continue, and feel in freedom like us!" one woman said. "I want to tell all the presidents in all countries, you must respect your people, and you must continue to feel the most wonderful feeling is freedom!" said the other.

Like many others in the crowd, Mahmood Ayeesa isn't worried about Sharia or the specifics of what a new Egyptian government might look like. He's focused on the basic transition to democracy promised by Egypt's military commanders. He's concerned that they, or the old regime elite, might still try to shut down the revolution before meaningful reforms are made.

"The problem we are facing now is that Mubarak is still in power — he's gone but his regime is still here," Ayeesa said. "We cut the head of the serpent, but up until now we haven't cut the whole body of the serpent. So for this revolution to continue we need to keep on the streets, and to make the government and military know that, and start to take an action."

In many ways, today's protest is as much about celebrating as it is showing Egypt's new military rulers that if they fail to make reforms, the people can come back to the streets. Protestors have vowed to return every Friday to keep the pressure on.

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