A month after revolt, Egyptians march to protect their victory as neighbors demand freedom, too

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Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, February 26, 2011

CAIRO - One month after their uprising began, tens of thousands of Egyptians gathered Friday in the square where their unexpected journey originated, taking stock of what they have accomplished and affirming what they want next.

Banners, chants and conversations made clear that the crowds in Tahrir Square were of a single mind: Freedom has been won but not yet guaranteed. The generals ruling the country remain trusted, but they must replace the prime minister and his cabinet, lift a long-standing emergency law and put the Interior Ministry police under civilian control.

More than anything, the demonstrators seemed proud. Not only had they deposed Hosni Mubarak, their president of 30 years, but the example they provided, along with that of Tunisia, also has inspired their neighbors to pursue their own quests for freedom.

On Friday, that call resounded across the region, in some places at high cost. A "Day of Rage" in Iraq sent tens of thousands rallying nationwide for government reform and an end to corruption. At least 23 people were killed.

In Yemen, rent by recent deadly protests, tens of thousands of people gathered peacefully in the southern city of Taiz to demand that President Ali Abdullah Saleh step down.

Many had come from outside Taiz, suggesting that the clamor for Saleh's resignation might be widening.

In the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, anti-government demonstrators and Saleh supporters staged rival rallies under heavy security. Saleh had instructed security forces to protect demonstrators and prevent clashes, after the deaths of at least 19 people nationwide over the past nine days.

The dead include two activists killed Friday in clashes between protesters and security forces in the restive southern city of Aden, where more than 10,000 people took to the streets, according to Reuters.

Seven people have died since Feb. 14 in the Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain, home to the U.S. 5th Fleet. On Friday, authorities allowed tens of thousands of anti-government demonstrators to converge unimpeded on the capital's Pearl Square, now a raucous encampment. Some Bahrainis seek a greater voice in their government, but elements of the majority Shiite population want the Sunni king and rulers to go.

Bahrain's foreign minister, Khalid bin Ahmad al-Khalifa, sounded a conciliatory note in an interview, describing protesters' grievances as "legitimate." But he said the longer it takes for negotiations to start, the more he worries. "There are hardheaded people on both sides that could do something," he said.

Meanwhile, in Amman, to Egypt's east, about 6,000 Jordanians pressed their king for political and economic reforms. Organizers said that the turnout - the largest yet - was a response to an attack on protesters last week by government supporters in which eight people were injured.

But it was the plight of Egypt's Libyan neighbors that resonated most deeply among the demonstrators in Cairo. Scores of young men carrying - or wearing - Egyptian flags coursed through the crowd chanting, "With our blood and with our hearts we are united." Others bore a 40-foot-long banner proclaiming "Libya and Egypt are one."


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