The field hospital in the dark and dirty alley behind the Hardee's in Cairo's Tahrir Square is up and running again, just as it was last February. Once more, volunteer medics wearing gloves and surgical masks--to mitigate the sting of tear gas--lean over the wounded and dying activists ferried in on the backs of motorcycles. The square itself is an equally familiar scene: Egyptian protesters clash with security forces, exchanging rocks and Molotov cocktails for tear gas and bullets, as others lead chants for freedom. But now the regime change they are calling for is embodied not in Hosni Mubarak but in the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which stepped in to rule the country on an interim basis after Mubarak's exit last spring.
Street battles that began on Nov. 18 saw 33 dead, 1,700 wounded across the country in four days. Just as in the early days of the revolution, stinging clouds of white tear-gas smoke blanket downtown Cairo. Activists and volunteers douse strangers' scarves in vinegar and alkaline solutions to help them brave the storm. The security forces' tactics have been brutal. "The monstrous way they are dealing with the protesters reminds us of the ugly era," says Emil Samir, a demonstrator. "The military council says we have the right to peaceful protest, but they're still dealing with us with violence. They're actually trying to kill people. When they catch someone, they keep beating him. And the police hire thugs to help them do their dirty work."
It isn't the first time security forces have violently responded to protests since Feb. 11. There have been many protests in Tahrir Square since, as activists ranging from liberal youth to Islamists and the Coptic Christian minority have taken their demands to the now iconic space.
Yet something is different this time around. What started as a protest led by Islamist groups to condemn a proposed set of supraconstitutional principles that would give the military broad power and immunity in a new Egypt has wound up attracting liberal and young voices as well, after months of political and sectarian bickering. And when the crackdown came, it activated a wide range of Egyptians, many of whom say the revolution is still fruitless and unfinished. "The Supreme Council is walking in the same steps as Mubarak," says Samir, an archaeologist who joined the uprising last winter and has attended many other protests since. "This is the continuation of the first revolution, because the first revolution failed."
Protesters in Cairo are rekindling the words that have come to symbolize the uprising of January and February--and every other Arab revolution since: "The people want the fall of the regime." And in some cases, they've added a few more words: "and the field marshal." That would be the most prominent face of the new regime--Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, 76, who has headed the ruling military council since the ouster of Mubarak, whom he served as Defense MINISTER. THE FIELD MARSHAL IS THE LOYAL DOG OF MUBARAK, reads a sign held aloft by Moustafa Abou Hussein. "Nine months have passed, and nothing has happened. And we hear that [Tantawi] is planning to be in power until 2013," he says. "Maybe he wishes to nominate himself as the next President of Egypt."