CAIRO – Tens of thousands of Egyptians waved flags and shouted slogans Friday in Cairo's central Tahrir Square, demanding that Hosni Mubarak and his family be put on trial over allegations of corruption in one of the biggest protests since the longtime president was ousted two months ago.
The massive turnout reflected growing frustration with what activists see as the slowness of Egypt's new military rulers to punish top former figures in Mubarak's regime seen as using their power to amass personal fortunes.
The military appears to be trying to accelerating the prosecuctions, with authorities announcing a day earlier that Mubarak's former chief of staff, Zakariya Azmi, had been detained for questioning on corruption allegations, the highest-ranking member of his regime to be arrested so far. They also said investigators would begin questioning another senior regime insider, former ruling party chief, Safwat el-Sharif.
Since his ouster on Feb. 11, Mubarak and his family have been under house arrest at a presidential palace in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, their assets frozen.
The crowds packing Tahrir Square chanted to Defense Minister Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, who heads the military council that now runs the country, demanding prosecutors go after Mubarak and his sons — including Gamal, an investment banker-turned-political who was seen as Mubarak's choice as his successor.
"Tantawi, are you a guard for Mubarak?" read one banner stretched abover the crowd. Another read, "Military council, are you with us or not?"
"We are not leaving here until Mubarak is on trial," one speaker at a podium in the square vowed, as the crowd chanted, "The people want to try the deposed president."
Organizers labelled the protest "Friday of Purification and Trial," referring to the demand to cleanse the government of corruption. Protesters put together a makeshift cage on the pavement in Tahrir, with pictures of Mubarak and his family inside.
"It is clear now that no demands are met except under pressure," said Mohammed Abbas, a member of the coalition of youth activists who organized the 18-day wave of mass demonstrations that forced Mubarak out of power. "Mubarak is the one who stole our money. Why is he still in Sharm el-Sheikh?"
Since Mubarak's fall, the unprecedented youth movement that ousted him has seen some fragmentation, as the military pushed ahead with a quick timetable for new parliament and presidential elections to be held in September and November. That has sent various factions scrambling to get organized to contest the vote.
But the corruption issue provides a unifying theme that resonates among most Egyptians. Mubarak's regime was long criticized as deeply corrupt — particular a group of millionaire businessmen-politicians close to Gamal who many believe profited from their positions as Gamal implemented a program of economic privatization and liberalization.
Many Egyptians also want to see the leadership punished for years of political repression, including widespread vote fraud during elections and security crackdowns. Already, a string of former officials have been put on trial or under investigation.
In the latest announcement, prosecutor Assem al-Gawhari told the state-run news agency on Thursday that former chief of staff Azmi was detained for 15 days for questioning on using his position to amass a fortune. Azmi was considered Mubarak's trusted right-hand man.
Days earlier, Egypt's former housing minister, Mohammed Ibrahim Suleiman, was arrested on suspicion he was involved in the illegal sale of state lands for cut-rate prices.