Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians massed in Cairo’s now iconic Tahrir Square on Friday to celebrate the fall of strongman Hosni Mubarak and to pressure their new military rulers to deliver reform.


Influential Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi addressed the host of people during Friday prayers, calling on Arab leaders to listen to their people, to cheers from a crowd with a large contingent of Islamist activists.

“The world has changed, the world has progressed, and the Arab world has changed within,” said Qaradawi, an Egyptian-born cleric based in Qatar.

“Don’t obstruct the people,” he said. “Don’t try to lead them on with empty talk. Conduct a real dialogue with them.”

Protesters performed their prayers in massed ranks, with tanks surrounding the square and a light security presence.

Before the crowds swelled for the Friday prayer, a military band in full dress uniform was playing patriotic music to the cheers of the adoring crowd.

Elsewhere in Cairo, several hundred demonstrators gathered on a square in the middle class Muhandiseen district in a show of support for Mubarak, saying the veteran leader had been wronged by the protesters.

“The people want to honour the president,” they chanted, an inversion of the revolt’s slogan, “The people want the overthrow of the regime.” The rally was peaceful, as fewer than a dozen police looked on.

Activists ratcheted up pressure on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that took power when Mubarak stepped down on February 11 by calling a march in Cairo to commemorate their dead and press for the release of detainees.

The Coalition of the Revolution Youth, which groups pro-democracy movements that helped launch the revolt, called for the gathering to “remember the martyrs of freedom and dignity and justice”.

At least 365 people were killed and 5500 injured in the protests leading up to Mubarak’s downfall, according to the health ministry.

The coalition has vowed to keep up the pressure to ensure the rest of its political demands are met, including the “immediate release of all detainees”, it said in statement posted on Facebook.

Hundreds of people went missing during the protests, rights groups say, blaming the army, which they have also accused of torture.

Gamal Eid, a lawyer who heads the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, said: “There are hundreds of detained, but information on their numbers is still not complete … The army was holding detainees.”

On Thursday, Amnesty International called on the military to halt the use of torture against detainees, saying it had fresh evidence of abuse.

Both Amnesty and the New York-based Human Rights Watch said they interviewed former detainees who described being tortured by the military.

The coalition of activists is also calling for “a speedy replacement of the current caretaker cabinet by a government of technocrats” that are not seen as corrupt, it said.

Pro-democracy activists are also seeking a lifting of the decades-old emergency law and support for the pay strikes that have surged around the country.

“We are going today to commemorate the martyrs and in doing so we are awaiting justice,” Mohammed Waked, a protest organiser, told AFP.

“If those detained during the protests are not released, let alone the older political prisoners, it would be a bad sign. It would show the army is not sincere about political reforms.”

In Tahrir Square, taxi driver Farag Radwan, who took the day off to celebrate, said he was following other revolts in the Arab world on television.

“Why can’t we be united like Europe?” he said. “The problem is with the presidents not the people.”

Activists, who are also calling for a complete dismantling of Mubarak’s regime, welcomed the arrest of reviled former interior minister Habib al-Adly, whose security forces were given wide powers of arrest under the emergency law.

Adly was arrested on Thursday on suspicion of money laundering and ordered held for 15 days.

And prosecutors ordered former tourism minister Zuheir Garana, former housing minister Ahmed al-Maghrabi and businessman Ahmad Ezz also to be held for 15 days “to assist in an investigation”, a judicial source said.

Ezz, a steel magnate, was a member of the former ruling National Democratic Party. He was considered to be a mentor of Mubarak’s son Gamal, who was long considered a possible successor to his father.

On Thursday, the United States gave Egypt, a key ally in the region, $US150 million ($A148.6 million) in crucial economic assistance to help transition towards democracy.