Kneeling on carpets, newspapers and Egyptian flags, people packed almost every available spot in Tahrir Square to hear Sheikh Qaradawi and celebrate a new political future.
One week on, Egyptians gather to take stock
CAIRO // Tahrir Square was briefly transformed into one of the world's largest prayer grounds yesterday, as hundreds of thousands of Egyptians celebrated their new political future in prayer.
Arriving at the square a week after Hosni Mubarak resigned as president, the mixed crowd of old men, families and youths said they came to celebrate and ensure the country's new military rulers would make good on their promises to transform the country into a democracy. They also commemorated the 365 people who died in the revolt.
Sitting on the sidelines, Nagah Mohammad said that despite her frail health and aching knees, she felt an obligation to bring her three small children to Tahrir Square. She had not been to the square since before the beginning of the revolt on January 25, she said.
"Although my health is not very good, I had to come out and support the youth who freed our country from injustices and to pray for the martyrs who died for us."
In a 45-minute sermon, Yusuf Qaradawi, the president of the International Union of Muslim Scholars who is best known for his weekly programme on Al Jazeera, said the protesters had created a new model for revolution by putting aside religious differences.
"The Arab world is changing, and leaders should not get in the way of history," he said. "Don't laugh at the people, they won't tolerate it anymore."
Sheikh Qaradawi praised the Egyptian military for its role in Mr Mubarak's resignation, but called on military leaders to release all political prisoners, including those arrested in recent weeks.
In a report on Thursday, Amnesty International, the London-based human rights group, described several cases in which protesters were allegedly detained at Tahrir Square by the military and then tortured over several days.
An army spokesman, Lt Gen Ismail Etman, denied the allegations.
Kneeling on carpets, newspapers and Egyptian flags, people packed almost every available spot in the square to hear Sheikh Qaradawi, who was born in Egypt but fled to Qatar in 1961 during the presidency of Gamal Abdul Nasser. Youths climbed atop palm trees and lamp posts for a better view, while several dozen people prayed atop a metro entrance.
Some organisers estimated the crowd at two million, but the number was impossible to verify.
The sheikh urged Egyptians to show patience in forging a new government, and called for an end to labour strikes involving hundreds of thousands of workers that hobbled the economy last week.
"People need to go back to work to support the efforts of the revolution," he said. "Egypt is entering a new phase and everyone needs to help build it."
Youth groups that led the revolt have said in recent days that they are willing to wait six months for elections, provided the military replaces current government ministers, including Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, who were appointed by Mr Mubarak and remain in their posts.
In a statement to local Egyptian press, yesterday, the a group of protest leaders calling themselves the January 25th coalition called on the military to name an interim government led by civilians. Since Mr Mubarak's resignation, the military has ruled through the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, headed by the former defence minister, Field Marshal Mohammed Tantawi.
"We are asking for an interim technocratic government to run the state during the transitional period," the coalition said. "We demand the government be headed by a civilian popular figure that is credible for the public."
For Amr Abdulmenam, 20, a student who has been protesting daily since January 28, the most important priority was to remove the vestiges of Mr Mubarak's regime, and consider putting the former president, his wife Suzanne, and his sons on trial on charges of corruption.
"They have to get rid of all the people who were part of Mubarak's regime," he said. "We have to put him on trial, and the kids and Suzanne too."