CAIRO - Egyptians held a nationwide "Victory March" on Friday to celebrate the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule one week ago, to protect the revolution and to remind new military rulers of the power of the street.
Hundreds of thousands joined the rallies, which are also a memorial to the 365 people who died in the 18-day uprising, with many Egyptians expressing their intention to guard their newly-won prospect of democracy.
"Change has come and we must be steadfast. Egyptians must stay awake and watchful," Khaled Ahmed Zaki, a 46-year-old construction worker, told Reuters in Tahrir Square, adding:
"Many with bad intentions are trying to steal the people's revolution. We have to be vigilant and protect the gains." With the Higher Military Council facing demands to free political prisoners and to lift emergency rules after dissolving parliament and suspending the constitution, all eyes were on the military's careful management of rallies around Egypt.
Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi, a Qatar-based preacher who backed the revolt and called it "a day from God", led prayers in Tahrir Square. He was greeted with loud cheers.
The atmosphere was relaxed and jubilant as the military blocked off the square to traffic ahead of Friday prayers. Soldiers and organisers conducted searches of people streaming in while an army band played "Egypt the Great".
The crowd sang along, waving Egyptian flags given out by soldiers, and chanting: "The army and the people are united." There were tanks and armoured vehicles at the 12 entrances to the sprawling square.
Life in Egypt is still far from normal almost a week after the popular revolt focused on Cairo's Tahrir (Liberation) Square, with tanks on the streets, banks closed, workers on strike and schools shut.
The revolution in Egypt, a U.S. ally which has signed a peace treaty with Israel, sent tremors through the region. Protests have erupted in Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Iran and Iraq, taking their cue from Egypt and Tunisia before it.
Security officials said Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq will announce ministers making up the new emergency government next week and hoped the reshuffle would help to appease protesters and workers on strike.
"Shafiq will announce the new government early next week ... Sunday or at the latest Monday and hopefully this will convince people to turn to their daily affairs," said an official.
The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group which says it is committed to democracy, is seen as the only truly organised bloc in Egypt and believes it could win up to 30 percent of votes in a free election.
The Brotherhood also warned of the need to protect the gains from the revolution.
"We urge all noble people ... to guard the revolution and its legitimate demands, and not to leave the chance for opportunists to kidnap it and its accomplishments which, with God's permission, have begun to bear fruit," said the Brotherhood's leader Mohamed Badie, ahead of the march.
"This is an Egypt that cannot be deceived," Badie said in his Friday message to followers on the Brotherhood's website.
Qaradawi's sermon was expected to focus on telling the faithful about the importance of their role in building a free and democratic society in the world's most populous Arab nation.
Other groups held a simultaneous demonstration to "apologise" to Mubarak for the way he was ousted and recognise his achievements in his three decades in power.
Organisers said the Mubarak sympathisers are wearing black, with the victory marchers in white, and organisers said they hoped that the rallies would be peaceful.
The marches, starting in different parts of Cairo, were expected to gather momentum after midday prayers. Demonstrations were also likely in the port of Alexandria.
The army has kept the population on its side during the turmoil and promised to lift a decades-old emergency law, but is under pressure from activists who spearheaded the revolution to act swiftly to advance civil freedoms in the new Egypt.
The army is pledging to hand power to civilian parties when they are strong enough. Opposition forces sidelined or enfeebled under Mubarak's authoritarian rule are beginning to mobilise.
The new youth party, the "Revolutionaries of Tahrir Square", said it will join the march in Tahrir to celebrate and press for the demands of the revolution.
Ibrahim Darawi, one of the founding members, said the yet-to-be registered party would back more protests if needed.
"The founders' goal is to move Tahrir Square with all its diversity and political resolve to the party," Darawi told Reuters. "We oppose one-man leadership and stress that leaders must be from the youth," he added. (Additional reporting by Sarah Mikhail, Edmund Blair and Alexander Dziadosz; Writing by Peter Millership; Editing by Myra MacDonald)
© 2017 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.