Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians poured into Cairo's Tahrir Square on Wednesday to mark the anniversary of a revolution that began exactly one year ago: The massive protests that began on Jan. 25, 2011, lasted 18 days, eventually drawing as many as 1 million people to the city center and ending the 30-year rule of dictator Hosni Mubarak.
The massive gathering on Wednesday began peacefully, though some worry that simmering angst with the ruling military leadership could turn peaceful demonstrations into confrontational protests. Police and military camped outside the square-a clear concession to those still angered over the deaths of at least 850 protesters last year. Mubarak remains on trial for allegedly ordering the military to kill demonstrators. He denies the charge.
The ruling military party-likely to remain in power until at least the end of presidential elections later this year-made other concessions to demonstrators: They announced they would pardon and release some 2,000 prisoners convicted in military trials.
The released prisoners included Michael Nabil, a Coptic Christian blogger jailed last year for insulting the military in his web postings. Press freedom watchdog group Reporters Without Borders reports that Egyptian officials continue to harass citizens critical of the government, adding that press freedom in Egypt is worse now than it was last year.
Meanwhile, the first freely elected parliament in decades held its first session on Monday, marking a dramatic change in Egyptian government: Though secular youth started the revolution last year, Islamic politicians dominated post-revolution elections, winning nearly 70 percent of the seats in parliament.
The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party won nearly 44 percent of those seats, while hard-line Salafi politicians gained nearly 20 percent. Salifists advocate strict adherence to Islamic law in government.
Though the military remains in power, the Islamic-led parliament will appoint a commission to draft a new constitution-a process that could shape Egypt's future for decades. Egyptian citizens are set to vote on a constitutional referendum later this year, along with selecting a new president.
The first session of parliament on Monday showed that steep challenges remain: Arguments over selecting a speaker devolved into shouting matches, and minority secularist politicians objected to Salafi members amending their oaths of office, with some of the members including pledges of loyalty to Islamic law.