Chris McGreal / The Guardian – 2011-02-08 23:51:58
Egyptians Renew Appeal for Mubarak To Resign Now on Biggest Day of Protest
CAIRO (February 8, 2011) — Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians have turned out for the largest demonstration to date in Cairo, with renewed demands for the immediate resignation of their president, Hosni Mubarak.
Vice-president Omar Suleiman, the former intelligence chief who is leading negotiations with Egypt’s opposition groups, sought to appease protesters with a TV assurance that Mubarak had endorsed a timetable for a “peaceful and organised transfer of power” in September.
Suleiman said that Mubarak has set up a committee to recommend constitutional amendments to remove tight restrictions on who can run for president, and promised there will be no reprisals against protesters.
“The president welcomed the national consensus, confirming that we are putting our feet on the right path to getting out of the current crisis,” Suleiman said.
However, in a sign of growing impatience with the demonstrations, he last night warned the protests could not go on indefinitely. “We can’t bear this for a long time, and there must be an end to this crisis as soon as possible,” he said. State news agency Mena said he made the remarks at a meeting with newspaper editors, where he rejected any departure for Mubarak or “end to the regime” and said they prefered to deal with the crisis using dialogue, adding, “We don’t want to deal with Egyptian society with police tools.”
But the consensus among the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators who packed into Tahrir Square on the 15th day of protest â€“ discrediting government claims that support is fading â€“ was that Mubarak must go now and that the regime cannot be trusted.
On the streets, the concessions were viewed as further evidence of the government’s weakness and spurred a determination to keep protesting.
The demonstration drew many Egyptians who have not attended the protests before â€“ including women, children and government workers â€“ in a sign of the broadening base of support for the action. But some of the regime’s opponents said they feared the scale of the defiance could again provoke a violent backlash. The UN estimates that 300 people have died in state-sponsored violence against protesters.
Among those who appeared in Tahrir Square was the newly-released Google executive and blogger Wael Ghonim, who was held by state security for 12 days. He made an emotional TV appearance, which had a powerful impact in Egypt and on the web, and helped motivate more people to attend the protests.
“You are the heroes. I am not a hero, you are the heroes,” Ghonim said.
Thousands of the protesters began a sit-in on the road outside parliament, which the opposition has been threatening to take over since the protests began.
Opposition activists said Suleiman’s statement fell far short of their demands for Mubarak’s departure, for parliament’s dissolution and for the installation of a broadly representative interim government.
A leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Essam el-Erian, said his organisation would give Mubarak a week to resign and then reconsider its participation in negotiations with Suleiman, which began on Sunday. Amid concerns among some activists that the regime will drag out talks until the street protests fade, el-Erian denied that the Muslim Brotherhood is being used.
“The Viet Cong was negotiating in Paris and fighting in Vietnam,” he said. “We give them [the regime] some time to discuss. They are afraid of facing Mubarak and saying to him: Go.
“They are arranging their affairs because he was a symbol of the regime and he was controlling them. They need some time. We give them this chance. A week.”
After that, el-Erian said, the brotherhood will reconsider its participation in the negotiations. But el-Erian said that whatever happened, the protesters on the street would win. “I think the revolution cannot be defeated. It can achieve all goals in the end, it can achieve some. But it cannot be defeated,” he said. “It isn’t personal against Mr Mubarak himself, it is against what Mr Mubarak represents.”
Asked if his organisation had only belatedly thrown its weight behind the street protests, el-Erian said the brotherhood had not pushed itself to the forefront out of concern that it would be used against the demonstrators.
“We are keeping a step behind, not in the forefront, because Mr Obama, Mrs Clinton, Mr Cameron, Mr Sarkozy, when they see us at the front they say we are another Khomeini, another Iranian [revolution],” he said.
Among those who joined the demonstrations were staff from Cairo University, a former director of the state bank and off-duty soldiers. A group of women at the demonstrations chanted: “Mubarak, you were head of the air force. Fly out of here.”
One of the protesters was dressed as a football referee and waved a red card with Mubarak’s name on it.
Ayman Abdullah, a 43-year-old teacher, said he regards the square as liberated territory.
“This is the first piece of the new Egypt. Mubarak does not rule here anymore. Suleiman does not rule here. We will rule here and will rule all of Egypt,” he said.
Also in the crowd was prominent Egyptian feminist author Nawal El-Saadawi, whose life has been threatened by Islamists, and who predicted that Mubarak will be gone within days.
“What’s beautiful about this revolution is that it is a revolution, not what they’re calling a crisis â€¦ It’s a real, real revolution,” she said. “We have won. Mubarak is leaving. He is very stubborn and stupid, and blind to the power of the people. But he has lost power because there are millions. It’s not thousands … nobody can abort the revolution.”
The protest organisers have called another mass demonstration for Friday, when they plan to hold a symbolic trial of Mubarak.
Mubarak also ordered an investigation into the assault by his supporters on opposition protesters last week that led to an estimated 300 deaths and mass detentions.
“The youth of Egypt deserve national appreciation,” Suleiman quoted the president as saying.
“They should not be detained, harassed or denied their freedom of expression.”
However, there is scepticism among opposition activists given that thousands of them have been detained in recent days.
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