Egyptian youths camped out on Thursday in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and vowed to
stay put until the army hands power to civilians, a day after a mass
demonstration marked a year since an uprising which brought down Hosni
Tens of thousands of Egyptians poured into the square and onto
streets of other cities for the January 25 anniversary of the day the revolt
began. Also Thursday, military authorities told several American pro-democracy
activists – including the son of a member of US President Barack Obama’s cabinet
– they cannot leave the country. One of those affected described the move as a
“de facto detention.”
Officials at two prominent US-funded NGOs said 10
of their staff members have been instructed to stay in Egypt.
the orders were related to Egyptian judicial investigations launched last month
into a number of NGOs for alleged violations of rules relating to the
registration of organizations in the country.
Thursday’s Tahrir crowds
were broadly split between youths demanding the army cede control to civilians
immediately and Islamists celebrating a political transformation that has handed
them sweeping gains in parliament after decades of repression.
past, sit-ins sparked violence when the police and army have sought to clear
protesters out, but on Thursday the scene was peaceful.
Scores of youths
occupied the square surrounded by dozens of tents pitched on traffic islands.
Vendors sold hot drinks and some activists huddled around open fires to keep
warm in the morning air.
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“The military council commits the same abuses
Mubarak committed. I don’t feel any change. The military council is leading a
We will protest until the military council goes,”
said 23- year-old student Samer Qabil.
The army council took over when
Mubarak was ousted and is led by Egypt’s defense minister for two decades, Field
Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi. The council has insisted it will hand power to
civilians after a presidential election in June.
But many activists say
they fear it wants to hold onto power behind the scenes.
were cheered when they were ordered onto the streets in the uprising, they have
since drawn the wrath of many for heavy-handed tactics against protests
demanding they go back to barracks.
In Alexandria, a Mediterranean port
that is Egypt’s second- biggest city, about 100 protesters had also set up tents
late on Wednesday near police headquarters, demanding the army hand over power
The army and police kept their distance from the square
during Wednesday’s demonstration in an apparent effort to ensure there was no
cause for friction.
The United States, which gives $1.3 billion a year in
aid to Egypt’s military, reacted sharply when the Egyptian authorities swooped
in on some 17 NGOs in December.
The US had hinted that the military aid
could be reviewed if the raids continued.
Among those now prevented from
leaving the country is Sam LaHood, Egypt director of the International
Republican Institute (IRI), whose father Ray LaHood is US Transportation
“We have received verbal notification that six NDI staff,
three of them Americans, have been served travel bans,” said director of the
National Democratic Institute in Egypt Julie Hughes, adding that she expected a
formal written notification on Sunday.
The judges investigating the case
have charged the four members of the IRI with managing an unregistered NGO and
being paid employees of an unregistered organization, charges that could carry
up to five years in jail, one NGO member said.
The IRI made no immediate
Both the NDI and IRI receive some of their funding from US
government agencies and, while not formally part of the two main US political
parties, each has loose affiliations with either the Republican or Democratic
Sam LaHood had tried to fly out from Cairo on Saturday and was
told that he could not leave, one NGO official said. In addition to him, the
order affects five IRI staff, including three Americans.
former IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi said neither Israeli nor
Egyptian intelligence had been able to foresee last year’s
“Frankly, we didn’t see this coming. It happened on my watch,
and we didn’t see it coming. The Egyptians didn’t know, either,” Ashkenazi said
at a conference at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv
Ashkenazi recalled that just weeks before the January 25,
2011, mass rallies, Egypt’s then-intelligence chief Omar Suleiman visited Israel
and spoke with officials over who might succeed the octogenarian Mubarak.
Ashkenazi recalled the intelligence chief quipping, “Whoever’s elected doesn’t
matter – all that matters is who’s counting the votes.”
Channel 2 Arab
affairs analyst Ehud Yaari told the conference both Egypt and Israel have
interests in maintaining the 1979 peace treaty between them. He said the treaty
should be maintained exactly in its current form, though Egypt should raise
troop levels in the increasingly lawless Sinai Peninsula – a measure already
allowed for in the existing treaty.
Yaari said the new Egypt, with its
Islamist-dominated parliament, presents complications to Israeli policymakers
the likes of which they haven’t known in decades: “We have to handle this new
situation the same way hedgehogs make love: slowly and with a lot of
caution.”Reuters contributed to this report.
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