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Egyptian Revolution Honeymoon Phase May Be Over Already

With pro-Mubarak thugs back on the scene and economic uncertainty rampant, the honeymoon of Cairo's pro-democracy movement may already be ending.

Mubarak's departure have not meant an end to protests in Cairo (Monasosh)

Giordano Stabile

CAIRO - The baltagiyya are back. The word is spreading among the people in front of the Ministry of the Interior in Cairo. It is part of the second wave of the revolution in Tahrir Square, which has suddenly gotten hot again. Baltagiyya was the name given to former President Hosni Mubarak's thugs, who reappeared Sunday night. Demonstrators say that they used knives and hit some boys after the angry mob tried to break the police cordon in front of the ministry. The military fired shots in the air, and widespread – though mostly minor – injuries were reported. The revolution's open conflict – quieted for the past few weeks ago – seemed to have returned.

And it is not over yet. The most radical part of the pro-Mubarak movement is still holding siege over police headquarters and the Interior Ministry, long considered the core of the old regime. And rallies have been held around the Interior Ministry, close to Tahrir Square, which demonstrators still populate as the symbol of Egypt's liberation.

People hate the secret police, a component of Mubarak's regime that was not dismantled by the revolution. Even if there are fewer police officers paroling the streets, people still feel under threat. "They do not treat us as citizens," says Mohammed Alla, a 22-year-old demonstrator camping in the middle of the square with hundreds of other protesters. "They must change, they must send away all the bosses. They must put on trial the murders and the torturers. They are just busy hiding all the proof."

On the outskirts of the capital, at the headquarters of the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services, word had spread that agents were burning documents about past acts of torture committed by the government. Demonstrators broke in to some offices to allegedly find many destroyed documents, which they say is proof of the former government's determination to destroy the evidence of their crimes. Now soldiers are guarding the building.

If police bosses were put on trial for human rights violations, it would be a huge victory for the reformist wing of the new government, of which the recently appointed Prime Minister Essam Sharaf is a member. "The security apparatus will be reformed. They will work for the good of the people," Sharaf declared last week. "If I cannot fulfil those objectives, I will come and join the people as a protester."

The former Interior Minister, Gen. Habib al Adly, the man in charge of 100,000 men in the security apparatus, is already on trial. He is charged with money-laundering. It is a much lesser charge than human rights abuses against citizens, but it could be enough to put him in prison. There is speculation that the burned documents in the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services were about Gen. al Adly.

Romeo and Juliet, Muslims and Copts

There is also smoke coming from southern Egypt, but from a very different sort of fire: a small church was set on fire in the village of Fourl. There are just four streets, small houses and channels bringing water from the Nile to the rice fields. It is one of the many rural Egyptian villages where the Christian community is strong. It is discreet, and takes care not to offend Muslims. But last Saturday, a family fight over a couple – a Copt man and a Muslim woman -- turned into guerrilla warfare. The church was burned, and the priest and three deacons have disappeared. Two Muslims, a farmer and a merchant, were killed, shot by a Copt farmer.

It is a Romeo and Juliet–style tale. The couple were 23 and 17, and wanted to get married. "But here, a Muslim man who wants to marry a Christian woman is not a problem. The contrary is forbidden," declares Danoub Thabet, a Copt who once owned a jewelery store. The parents argued first, then shot each other. The girl's farmer father was killed, along with the merchant friend. After the funerals, their relatives marched on the church and destroyed it. "We don't know what happened to the couple. They are probably hiding," says Thabet. "I don't think they will ever get married."

The Copts are a sizable minority of 10 million in Egypt, a country of 80 million. But they say they have obtained little from the Tahrir Square revolution, citing continuing lack of social and political parity between Christians and Muslims.

In Egypt, the transition from military to civil rule seems far off, too. Will the revolution manage to push the country this next mile? "It is hard to tell," says the political analyst Ramadam Kader. "But there is still enthusiasm, and the new government is high quality."

Still, others worry that the road to a civilian government and true democracy will be long. "They have to restart the economy," complains Saam Ali, the owner of a small kebab restaurant close to Giza's Pyramids. "In 23 years here, I have never seen something like this. There are 80% fewer tourists. And this is high season."

But back in Cairo, the bigger fear for protesters is that someone could steal their revolution.

Read the original article in Italian


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