Protests Grow Larger as Egypt’s New Strongman Warns Pro-Democracy Struggle “Must End”

February 9th, 2011 - by admin

Al Jazeera – 2011-02-09 21:32:59

Egypt Protests Remain Strong
Al Jazeera

CAIRO (February 9, 2011) — Protests in Egypt have entered their sixteenth day, following the biggest number of pro-democracy demonstrators in Cairo’s Tahrir [Liberation] Square yet. The square resembled a tented city on Tuesday, with protesters refusing to budge until their demands for Hosni Mubarak’s resignation were met.

The president’s message has thus far been that he will not leave until his term expires in September.

Hoda Abdel-Hamid, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in the Egyptian capital, said the crowd at Tahrir Square grew rapidly on Tuesday afternoon, with many first-timers joining the demonstrations. Many feel this showed that the movement, now in its third week, still has momentum. “It shows the level of passion here [among the protesters],” another Al Jazeera correspondent reporting from Cairo said.

He said that there was a renewed international element to the demonstrations, with Egyptians from abroad returning to join the pro-democracy camp. Tens of thousands of protesters also come out on the streets in Alexandria, Egypt’s second largest city.

Expatriates Returning
There is even an internet campaign aimed at mobilising thousands of expatriates to return and support the uprising, our sorrespondent said.

Meanwhile, Ban Ki-moon, the UN chief, said on Tuesday that genuine dialogue was needed to end the current crisis, and that a peaceful transition was crucial. “The Egyptian people are clearly frustrated, and are calling for bold reforms. It is incumbent on the Egyptian leadership — and that of any other country in the world — to listen attentively to the legitimate concerns and aspirations of their people,” he said.

In Cairo, protesters marched to the parliament buildings, camping out and demanding the assembly’s immediate dissolution. The newcomers who joined Cairo’s protesters said they had been inspired in part by the release of Wael Ghonim, the Google executive, previously held by state security authorities.

Ghonim was the person behind a page called “We are all Khaled Said” on the social networking site Facebook, which is being credited for helping spark the uprising in Egypt. “I came here for the first time today because this cabinet is a failure, Mubarak is still meeting the same ugly faces … he can’t believe it is over. He is a very stubborn man,” Afaf Naged, a former member of the board of directors of the state-owned National Bank of Egypt, said. “I am also here because of Wael Ghonim. He was right when he said the NDP [ruling National Democratic Party] is finished. There is no party left, but they don’t want to admit it.”

Amr Fatouh, a surgeon, said he had joined the protests for the first time as well. “I hope people will continue and more people will come. At first, people did not believe the regime would fall but that is changing,” he said.

Protesters’ resolve at Tahrir Square was high on Tuesday, and some had reportedly composed a “revolution anthem” to boost morale.

Call for Mubarak’s Trial
In another development, about 20 lawyers have petitioned Abdel Meguid Mahmoud, the country’s prosecutor general, to try Mubarak and his family for allegedly stealing state wealth. Ibrahim Yosri, a lawyer and a former deputy foreign minister, has drafted the petition.

Earlier on Tuesday, in a statement made on Egyptian state television, Omar Suleiman, the country’s vice-president, said that a plan was in place for the peaceful transfer of power. He announced formation of two independent committees for political and constitutional reforms.

One committee would carry out constitutional and legislative amendments to enable a shift of power while another would be set up to monitor the implementation of all proposed reforms. Suleiman stressed that demonstrators will not be prosecuted and an independent fact-finding committee would be established to probe the violence on February 2.

The government had offered on Monday a pay rise to public-sector workers, but the pro-democracy camp said the government had conceded little ground in trying to end the current crisis.

However, the country’s tourism sector is suffering, with the area around the famed pyramids remaining closed. The Credit Agricole bank says the protests are costing Egypt more than $300m a day.

“There is a lot of popular public sentiments in Cairo and wider Egypt regarding what those protesters are trying to achieve but at the same time, people are trying to get back to live as normal lives as possible,” an Al Jazeera correspondent said. Another correspondent, also in Cairo, said: “There are divisions. On one side, people do agree with the messages coming out of Tahrir Square, but on the other, Egypt is a country where about 40 per cent of the population lives on daily wages.”

Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmons, reporting from Cairo, said that a “battle for hearts and minds” is under way. “Anti-government demonstrators are pushing to convince the country that Mubarak needs to go, but some also don’t want the country to plunge into chaos,” he said. “There is also a struggle to get back to normality. Many want to get back to normal lives, but at the same time want this campaign to continue.”

Meanwhile, tanks continue to guard government buildings, embassies and other important institutions in Cairo.

Egypt VP: Protests Must End Soon
Al Jazeera

CAIRO (February 8, 2011) — Omar Suleiman, the Egyptian vice-president, warned on Tuesday that his government “can’t put up with continued protests” for a long time, as tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters rallied in Cairo’s Tahrir Square for the sixteenth day in a row. In a sharply worded statement reflecting the regime’s impatience and frustration with the mass demonstrations, the newly appointed Suleiman said the crisis must be ended as soon as possible.

Increasingly the public face of the embattled government, Suleiman said there will be “no ending of the regime” and no immediate departure for President Hosni Mubarak, according to the state news agency MENA, reporting on a meeting between the vice-president and independent newspapers.

The immediate departure of Mubarak is a key demand for the pro-democracy demonstrators. Mubarak’s pledge to not seek another term later this year didn’t tame the angry protests. Meanwhile, the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon added his voice to host of countries calling for “an orderly transition” in Egypt.

Speaking at the United Nations headquarters in New York, Moon said Egyptian government must heed the call from its people for greater reform immediately.

Subtle Threat
Suleiman reportedly told the editors of the newspapers that the regime wants dialogue to resolve protesters’ demands for democratic reform, adding, in a veiled warning, that the government doesn’t “want to deal with Egyptian society with police tools.”

At one point in the roundtable meeting, Suleiman warned that the alternative to dialogue “is that a coup happens, which would mean uncalculated and hasty steps, including lots of irrationalities. We don’t want to reach that point, to protect Egypt.”

Pressed by the editors to explain the comment, he said he did not mean a military coup but that “a force that is unprepared for rule” could overturn state institutions, said Amr Khafagi, editor-in-chief of the privately-owned Shorouk daily, who attended the briefing. “He doesn’t mean it in the classical way. The presence of the protesters in Tahrir Square and some satellite stations insulting Egypt and belittling it makes citizens hesitant to go to work,” he said.

Egyptian military, widely hailed for professionalism and restraint, has vowed not to use force against peaceful protesters. President Mubarak, his deputy and the new prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, are all retired military officers with deep links to the institution.

Sticks and Carrots
Suleiman warned that calls by some protesters for a campaign of civil disobedience are “very dangerous for society and we can’t put up with this at all.” This comes a day after Suleiman announced a slew of constitutional reforms, to be undertaken by yet to be formed committees.

Suleiman said that one committee would carry out constitutional and legislative amendments to enable a shift of power while a separate committee will be set up to monitor the implementation of all proposed reforms. The two committees will start working immediately, he said. Suleiman stressed that demonstrators will not be prosecuted and that a separate independent fact-finding committee would be established to probe the violence on February 2.

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