The scene in Cairo's Tahrir Square had an aura of finality today, as volunteers dismantled barricades and checkpoints, began packing up their blankets and tents, and prepared to go home. Crowds of Egyptians strolled the square, many of them looking more like tourists as they gawked at the scene of last week's intense battles and took pictures with soldiers and bandaged-up protesters. Others -- some wearing signs saying "Sorry for Disturbance. We Build Egypt" and "Enter Egypt in Peace and Safety" -- brought out brooms, dustpans, and trash bags, sweeping away the piles of garbage and dust that had accumulated over the siege of the past three weeks.
Mohamed Azzam, 33, an unemployed high school graduate, was ebullient about President Hosni Mubarak's departure: "For 7,000 years, we haven't had freedom."
But while Mubarak may have left the scene, the revolution is not quite over.
In its statement this afternoon, the military council that is now governing the country stopped well short of signaling a full transition to democracy. The existing cabinet, for one thing, will stay on for now (one exception is Information Minister Anas el-Fiky, who was reportedly arrested while trying to flee the country). The military did say it would oversee a return to an elected civilian government, but it also urged Egyptians to cooperate with the police -- a despised institution that retains broad, unaccountable powers under Mubarak's emergency law.
Ahmed Naguib, a spokesman for the core group of organizers in Tahrir Square, said glumly that the military's statement was "not a good start." The organizing committee planned to tell people to go home, he said, but would ask the protesters to return to the square every Friday until all of their demands were met. "At least they could have named a new prime minister," he said.
According to the coalition of youth groups who helped staged the "January 25 revolution," as it is now widely being called here, there is still a long way to go. At a press conference at the Journalists' Syndicate in Cairo, representatives of several of them -- including the April 6 Youth Movement, the Justice and Freedom Party, and the Muslim Brotherhood Youth -- laid out their objectives: an end to the emergency law, an interim government of national unity, an anti-corruption drive, accountability for the abuses and violence by police forces and armed thugs over the last few weeks, the immediate release of all political detainees, the dissolution of parliament, complete freedom of the press and association, and committee to write a new constitution.
Mohamed Abbas, 26, said that the youth coalition had begun indirect talks with the military Friday, though he declined to comment on the discussions. Ahmed Maher, the co-founder of the April 6 Youth Movement, said that it was "just the beginning" of the political process and that the protesters had to "keep the pressure" on in order to ensure a transition to an elected civilian government and a new constitution. He said that Ahmed Zewail, an eminent Egyptian-American scientist, was negotiating with the Army on their behalf.
Back in the square, Abdelaziz Abdel Qadr, a 30-year-old Arabic teacher and Muslim Brotherhood supporter, said, "The ball is in the Army's court."
Osama Khalil, a 37-year-old English teacher who had been manning the barricades in Tahrir Square since Jan. 28, said he wasn't leaving until all of the protesters' demands were met. "We don't trust anybody."
Typos corrected, 1:04 p.m., Feb. 14, 2011