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In Egypt, Excitement Dampened by Continued Violence

Following Egypt’s revolution that brought down former president Hosni Mubarak a month ago, Egyptians are cautiously optimistic about the movement toward democracy, but sporadic violence continues to hamper the process, reports Jon Jensen, GlobalPost’s correspondent in Cairo.

On Thursday, protesters still encamped in Cairo’s Tahrir Square — demanding a new constitution and dissolution of the country’s security apparatus — clashed with counter-protesters wanting drive them out so that life could return to normal there.

Jensen reports on the stone-throwing incident in Tahrir Square:

The military intervened and cleared the square of all protesters, including the ones who had camped out there for weeks. Jensen told us by phone that police are now guarding the square.

The police themselves had been largely absent since Jan. 28, when their violent reaction to the protesters in Tahrir Square led to their replacement by the military to try to keep the peace. In the absence of the police, people had been left to their own devices to protect themselves, said Jensen.

“We saw it manifested in average citizens wielding knives, in some cases guns, and most cases canes, sticks and baseball bats to guard their streets from looters or thieves — rogue elements who appeared in late January and early February,” he said.

The police have since returned to their regular deployments, and people were glad to see them back after serious violence started up again, said Jensen. In what appears to be a renewal of sectarian violence, 13 people died in Christian Copt and Muslim fighting, which included the burning of a church south of Cairo. Also this week, women intending to march in Tahrir Square for International Women’s Day experienced harassment and attacks.

As for the political scene, some presidential contenders have announced their intentions to run, including Mohamad ElBaradei, the Nobel laureate and former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency who took part in the anti-Mubarak demonstrations, and Amr Moussa, outgoing head of the Arab League, who has taken an early lead, according to some reports.

“I’ve seen a lot of excitement from people who were initially critical of ElBaradei because he was seen as a liberal activist who spent more of his time in foreign capitals,” rather than spending time in Egypt and becoming a more populist leader, Jensen said. “But I’ve seen a lot more excitement that democracy may actually happen here.”

Egyptians will get a chance to vote on a set of constitutional amendments on March 19. Possible changes include limiting the office of the president to a four-year term and capping the terms to two. Independent and opposition members also will be able to compete in elections, whereas previous restrictions limited their involvement and kept Mubarak’s National Democratic Party as the automatic front-runner in elections.

While many would like to see more changes — if not an entirely new constitution — and judicial oversight of the election process, people are still hopeful and heartened by the direction the country is going, Jensen said.

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