CAIRO – Tahrir Square is back. For the past four days, protesters opposed to military rule have done battle with Egyptian security forces -- and on Tuesday, Nov. 22, the tide appeared to finally turn in their favor. Buoyed by crowds that exceeded 100,000, the protesters forced the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to announce an accelerated transition to civilian rule. But with mistrust between the two sides running high, nobody is celebrating just yet.
"The Armed Forces do not seek power and are ready to leave power immediately through the holding of a popular referendum if necessary," SCAF chairman Field Marshall Mohamed Tantawi said in a televised address. "Some tried to drag us into confrontation … But we will control ourselves to the maximum. We will never kill a single Egyptian."
Nevertheless, the Health Ministry reported that at least 29 people had died during the latest spasm of unrest -- and Egyptians' growing disenchantment with the SCAF has certainly been on full display. On the night of Nov. 20 in Tahrir Square, a raucous mob enveloped the steps leading to the Omar Makram mosque. About an hour earlier, a combined army and police charge -- backed by waves of tear gas -- had violently cleared the area. The soldiers didn't stay long, pausing only to set fire to the collection of tents in the square.
In the wake of that attack, a pair of senior army officers ventured to the mosque to address the crowds, and apparently negotiate some sort of détente. But the protesters quickly turned on them, and the situation devolved into a frantic rescue. Volunteers from the mosque formed a human chain to stave off the enraged crowds seeking to reach the two officers inside.
One bearded man standing on the steps shouted, "These men are under our protection. Any hand that touches them will be cut off!"
The stand-off eventually was defused and the army officers were hustled out of the building, making their getaway in a waiting ambulance. "It's over. They're gone," said one witness. Then he laughed and turned sarcastic, adding, "They turned over Gilad Shalit. The hostage is free."
It's safe to say that SCAF officials, riding high in February after being embraced by the revolutionary movement intent on toppling Hosni Mubarak's regime, could never have imagined that army officers would be fleeing from an angry mob in Tahrir just a few months later.
Some, such as prominent activist and blogger Hossam el-Hamalawy, presciently argued from Day One against Egyptians putting their faith in the military. "A real democratic Egypt is not necessarily the Egypt that the generals and the United States want to see," Hamalawy told al Jazeera on Feb. 11, the night of Mubarak's resignation. "I do not trust those generals."