Demonstrators fill Tahrir Square in Egypt to press military for more reforms

Thousands upon thousands of Egyptian kneel to pray Friday in Cairo's Tahrir Square, where demonstrations were billed as a "Day of Victory and Continuation."
Thousands upon thousands of Egyptian kneel to pray Friday in Cairo's Tahrir Square, where demonstrations were billed as a "Day of Victory and Continuation." (Hussein Malla)
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, February 19, 2011

CAIRO - Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians poured into downtown Cairo's main square Friday to celebrate the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak and press the country's military chiefs to steer the country toward democratic reform.

"The people demand the trial of the regime," many chanted, echoing a long-stated demand by activists who want the deposed president and his allies held accountable.

The demonstration, billed as a "Day of Victory and Continuation," came a day after three senior government officials and a wealthy industrialist who were close to Mubarak and were members of the ruling party were arrested on suspicion of corruption, money laundering and the misuse of public funds. Prosecutors are investigating the allegations, state television reported.

The arrests were a clear message from the military leaders now running Egypt that they intend to crack down on corruption among those associated with Mubarak's government, which the demonstrators say stole state resources and instituted a system of crony capitalism that widened the gap between rich and poor.

Those detained, according to state television, were Habib al-Adli, who as interior minister commanded the brutal police and paramilitary security forces; former housing minister Ahmed Maghrabi; former tourism minister Zuhair Garana; and Ahmed Ezz, a steel magnate and a senior leader in the ruling party.

Ezz is widely reviled in Egypt. Hosni Mubarak's son Gamal brought him into the National Democratic Party (NDP) in 2000, and Ezz rose quickly through the ranks. He reportedly controls 60 percent of the steel industry and was the right-hand man of Gamal Mubarak, whose responsibility it was to modernize the government's operations and open markets.

Ezz is accused of orchestrating parliamentary elections last year that were rigged to allow the ruling party to sweep the vote, said Mohamed Abdellah, a former lawmaker and longtime prominent member of the NDP. Ezz not only monopolized businesses but monopolized the party, Abdellah added.

"For years, he centralized all the political power in his hands," Abdellah said. "He chose the candidates and gave direction to the party."

Adli, the former interior minister, is seen as representing the brutality of the state security services and police. During the 18-day uprising that began Jan. 25, police fired tear gas, rubber bullets and sometimes live ammunition at the demonstrators.

Abdellah said Adli cut off access to the Internet for days and was responsible for the attacks on protesters. "He's an arrogant man," Abdellah said.

The detained officials denied the allegations against them, according to state media.

In Tahrir, or Liberation, Square on Friday, a troupe of men wearing black T-shirts danced and sang in celebration of the arrests. Makeshift placards and banners held up by the crowd proclaimed the end of Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule and called on the generals to pursue all corrupt officials, revise the constitution and make Egypt a democracy.

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