Pro-democracy activists flocked to Cairo's iconic Tahrir Square for a new protest Friday to urge a "no" vote in a weekend referendum on the military's plans for the future after the stepping down of president Hosni Mubarak.
Thousands turned out in a festive atmosphere in the central plaza which was the epicenter of the 18 days of mass demonstrations which forced the veteran strongman to relinquish his three-decade grip on power last month.
"Down with the constitution," said a huge banner fluttering over the square, referring to the charter inherited from Mubarak's authoritarian rule which the military is proposing to amend but not entirely scrap, according to AFP.
"We'll continue the struggle"
"Martyrs be calm, we'll continue the struggle," said another, referring to the 384 people killed in the protests. "Hosni is in hell and you are in paradise."
The red, black and green flag of the Libyan opposition was held aloft alongside the Egyptian national colors as demonstrators showed their solidarity with the rebels in Egypt's eastern neighbor under attack by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi.
Women in traditional clothes rallied alongside others in knee-high boots. Couples walked hand in hand, as if for a weekend day out, buying sweets and mementos of the "Jan. 25 revolution" from street stalls set up by hawkers in the square.
Just five weeks after Mubarak's resignation, the revolution has already been commercialized.
Numbers were massively short of the hundreds of thousands who poured into central Cairo in the days leading up to his ouster, even allowing for the to-ing and fro-ing of demonstrators in the spring sunshine.
The rally had been called by the Coalition of the Youth of the Revolution which spearheaded the protests against Mubarak.
The young activists, along with a string of secular political parties and opposition figures, say the timetable being set by the military for fresh elections and a return to civilian rule is way too tight for movements stymied by decades of authoritarian rule to organize.
"These people are not organized," said Osama al-Nahass, a 54-year-old civil engineer, pointing at the crowd.
"They need to time to organize themselves into parties so the electorate can hear them."
Package of amendments
The activists also argue that the package of amendments being put to voters on Saturday does not go nearly far enough in overhauling the Mubarak-era charter, which they say needs to be completely rewritten.
"I came today to say no to the amendments," said Samaa Kotb, a 26-year-old dentist. "We want a brand new constitution not just to cancel some aspects."
The military council, which took over when Mubarak quit, imposed a ban on all media analysis or opinion pieces on the referendum from Friday morning until the close of polls at 1700 GMT on Saturday.
But it made no effort to prevent the Tahrir protest. Military police kept the traffic flowing through the square with the help of volunteer stewards but through polite requests not threat of arrest.
On the sidelines of the demonstration, some expressed anger at the young activists' call for the rejection of the army's transition plans.
"These people are crazy," said Mamdour Mahmoud, gesticulating wildly as he walked away in disgust. "They are in it for themselves. I am with the army. I am voting yes."
Teacher Mohammed Fawzi said the amendments might not be perfect but they were a move in the right direction.
"I will say yes because this constitution will be a step towards generating new laws and a new state in Egypt," he said.
The military itself has studiously kept above the fray, urging "yes" and "no" supporters alike to have their voices heard and turn out to vote.
There have been no opinion polls in the run-up to the vote and assessments of its likely outcome have been as divided as views about the proposed changes themselves.
Yes or No
Some analysts predict a majority "yes" vote, at least outside the big cities, while others are more skeptical, pointing to the widespread economic discontent in the provinces that has sparked a wave of strikes and walkouts.
The Muslim Brotherhood, a well organized Islamist group, has come out in favor of the amendments, setting it at odds with secular groups and prominent reform advocates including Mohamed ElBaradei and Amr Moussa, both candidates for the presidency.
"This will be a watershed vote," said Ahmed Saleh, an activist now coordinating ElBaradei's presidential campaign, according to Reuters. "People's appetite for voting is high now and change is in the air."
General Ismail Etman, a member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, said this week that amending the constitution was "the best and not the most ideal solution".
In an interview with al-Gomhuria newspaper published on Thursday, he said approval of the amendments would lead to new laws that would open up political life, including an end to restrictions of political party formation.
Newspapers, television stations and social networking sites have been alive with debate over how to vote.
The "No" camp pressed its campaign on Friday in a full-page advert in al-Masry al-Youm, a popular Egyptian newspaper.
"How can I agree to a historic decision without time or adequate information?" was one of the objections listed alongside pictures of actors, politicians, religious figures and businessmen who are urging voters to reject the amendments.
On the next page, a Muslim Brotherhood leader gave the opposing view: "Supporting the constitutional amendments is a step towards realizing the demands of the revolution ... the ones who reject them have not offered a clear alternative."