CAIRO // Thousands of people marched to Tahrir Square yesterday in what was described as the "19th day" of the uprising against the old regime, as Egypt's transition came under increased pressure.
A combination of a polarising run-off for the presidency scheduled to take place in less than two weeks and a perception that the trial against Hosni Mubarak, his sons and officials from the ministry of interior did not deliver justice has created a new period of instability in Egypt.
Protests began on Saturday after Judge Ahmed Refaat sentenced Mubarak and Habib Al Adly, the former minister of interior, to life imprisonment for their responsibility in the deaths of protesters during the first few days of the 18-day uprising last year.
The judge, however, drew wide criticism for acquitting Mubarak's sons, Gamal and Alaa, of corruption charges, and several former top security officials of having a role in the violence. All of the acquitted are still being held on separate charges.
The trial's outcome exacerbated tensions related to the presidential elections, which will come down to a choice between two extremes. Egyptians will have to choose between Mohammed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood member, and Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force commander and member of the Mubarak regime, in run-offs scheduled from June 16-17.
Retired Major General Sameh Seif Al Yazal, a former member of Egypt's intelligence service, said the renewed protests suggested that a handover of power from the military to a new civilian government scheduled for June 30 would not be enough to end the instability that has persisted since Mubarak stepped down last year.
"There is a lot of heat, still," he said. "Even a life sentence for Mubarak did not please everybody, so I don't see a return to normalcy for many months."
The thousands in Tahrir Square yesterday represented a unifying moment for protesters, who have been divided over how to gain a greater role in Egypt's new democracy. Revolutionary groups and liberals have failed to rally behind a single movement or leader, resulting in a poor performance in the parliamentary and presidential polls.
Their supporters have repeatedly fallen back on expressing their discontent through massive street protests. Yesterday, protesters carried placards with anti-military slogans and chanted against what they called injustices and attempts by the old regime to hijack the country.
"We believe that our revolution is not over. The military must leave power and hand it to civilians," said Mahmud Bahira, a protester from the Revolution Youth movement, according to Agence France-Presse.
The protests were in large part directed against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf), the group of senior generals that took power over Egypt after Mubarak resigned, and Mr Shafiq, whom many see as the presidential candidate who would restore the Mubarak regime. But there were echoes of the last year's uprising, too, with some groups chanting "bread, justice, freedom".
Adding to the disillusionment with Egypt's transition is the country's economic situation. The official unemployment rate has risen to more than 12 per cent, but the actual joblessness in Egypt is believed to be much higher because of the large number of people working in the informal sector who are not counted in periodic reviews of unemployment.
To many, one of the more infuriating results of Saturday's trial was the dismissal of corruption charges related to villas against Mubarak, his sons and a businessman. The public prosecutor and theillicit gains authority, a body in charge of investigating graft, have made several announcements about new charges over the last week in what has been seen as a political move to calm tensions.
Three failed presidential candidates led marches into the square yesterday evening. Most prominent was Hamdeen Sabahi, a left-wing Nasserist who came in third in the first round of elections.
Mr Sabahi has seen his star rise since the elections. Pre-election polls predicted he was a dark horse candidate with little chance of competing against the self-styled moderate Islamist, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, and the former foreign minister, Amr Moussa. But he trumped both in voting and has been a regular fixture at the protests since Saturday. A photo of him propped up by a huge crowd, raising his hands to the sky has spread widely across social-networking sites.
Both Mr Morsi and Mr Shafiq have sought to portray their campaigns as more centrist since they won the first round of elections, but they have failed in large part to bring liberals on-board.
None of the main losing candidates have endorsed their campaigns.