Carrying flags and bringing their children along, Egyptians packed into Tahrir Square for a day of prayer and celebration Friday to mark the fall of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak a week ago and to maintain pressure on the new military rulers to steer the country toward democratic reforms.
The groups that sparked the 18-day revolt leading to Mubarak’s downfall called the massive gathering the “Friday of Victory and Continuation,” a name reflecting both their pride in forcing a change in national leadership and their worries about the future.
People streamed into the square, even though a main access road was blocked by an army jeep and a barricade, and those entering on foot had to present identification to soldiers.
The atmosphere was festive, as organizers hoped it would be, maintaining the upbeat spirit of the earlier protests. Some vendors even sold vuvuzelas, the buzzing horns that became the soundtrack to the World Cup in South Africa last summer.
“We came here because we are excited about Egypt and the revolution,” said 48-year-old Ashraf Abdel-Azim, who made his way to the square with his wife, Nadwa, and their 9-year-old son, Ahmed. “We want freedom and change, so we are happy to see it coming.”
His wife had prepared a handwritten cardboard sign. “The people want to cleanse the country of corruption,” it read.
In one area of the vast plaza, a monument to those killed in the uprising — the Health Ministry has said at least 365 civilians died — had been erected. Many stopped before the monument, laying flowers on the ground or taking pictures of the pictures of those killed.
Organizers planned a lineup of bands in the afternoon, while an ad agency was looking to shoot footage to promote Egypt’s tourism industry, which has been hard hit by the nation’s political tumult.
Among those waiting in line was a group of about 30 activists from the “Visit Egypt” campaign. They wore matching T-shirts with the slogan “Support Freedom, Visit Egypt” printed on the front.
Despite Friday’s festivities, the situation in Egypt remains unsettled amid labor unrest and worries the military council running the country won’t implement promised reforms.
Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi, head of the ruling council, hasn’t even appeared in public since Mubarak stepped down under enormous pressure from the crowds that began protesting Jan. 25, and would not stop despite being attacked by pro-Mubarak forces.
While revolution has been good for national pride, it has pounded the Egyptian economy.
Banks and the stock market have been shuttered by the uprising, and the military has twice warned Egyptians not to strike. Even so, at least 1,500 employees of the Suez Canal Authority protested for better pay, housing and benefits Thursday in three cities — just one example of workers nationwide using this opportunity to voice long-held grievances.