CROWDS of protesters gathered in Tahrir Square to mark the first anniversary of Egypt’s revolution, as the country’s ruling military council announced a partial end to the emergency rule that has dominated people’s lives for more than 30 years. But it kept a clause saying emergency laws – in place since 1981 – would still apply in cases of ”thuggery”, a vague term that has drawn criticism from human rights groups and raised eyebrows in Washington. We are seeking some clarification from the Egyptian government … what they mean by that,” the US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. ”The fact that they are finally, after these many, many months of demands, taking the major step is very important for Egypt and for its future. To further appease democracy activists who want the country’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to cede power to a civilian government, the military pardoned and released this week nearly 2000 prisoners arrested and tried in military courts since the former president Hosni Mubarak was swept from power. Yesterday was declared a public holiday by the ruling military council. In Tahrir Square, which has been at the heart of Egypt’s millions-strong protests and the scene of months of horrific violence, the mood was upbeat. Flags were flying high in the winter breeze, political discussions erupted into heated debates, groups chanted slogans calling for the end to military rule and hundreds more people were arriving to take their place in this rolling democracy movement. The crowd was calm early on, and the military vowed to let the protest proceed unhindered, although it was clear they had prepared for trouble. The streets around the square leading to government buildings have been blocked by concrete cubes, reinforced cement walls, barbed wire and rows of riot police. Like many protesters, 19-year-old Nia, who did not want her last name published, had not told her parents she would be in Tahrir Square today. We were so hopeful once we were rid of Mubarak, but now the army is holding us back, she said. They have done nothing about food prices, gas prices, or anything with the economy – if they cannot fix it they should allow a civilian government to take over. Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Egypt’s de facto ruler, has stuck to his deadline of handing over power after the presidential elections due in July. Activists say this should happen sooner and have nominated the elections for the parliament’s upper house, due to begin on Sunday, as the next deadline for the military. Some protesters came to the square simply to celebrate what has been an extraordinary year. Mohammed Ahmed, an English teacher from Damietta, a coastal city about 200 kilometres north of Cairo, said Egypt had undergone enormous upheaval in a short period and he was proud of the achievements so far. This is the first time I have felt real happiness and freedom. This is a new Egypt and this is a great time in our lives, he said. I am 47 years old and this is the first time I have felt a real optimism about a new Egypt. Of course [the military council] should hand over power, but this will happen. We will go forward gradually, step by step. He was especially positive about the inaugural sitting this week of the country’s first democratically elected parliament in 60 years, in a house dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. Here we see liberal and leftist parties and Islamist parties all speaking together – we would never see this under Mubarak. Under Mubarak we were bleeding, now we have hope.