Egyptians gather for mass march

2011-02-01 09:49

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Cairo - Crowds gathered in central Cairo on Tuesday for a protest they hoped would swell to a million people demanding an end to the 30-year-rule of President Hosni Mubarak.

Mubarak's newly appointed vice-president, intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, began talks with opposition figures on Monday and promised reforms. The army also promised to hold its fire and declared the protesters demands legitimate.

But protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square, who kept vigil through the night in defiance of a curfew, vowed to continue their campaign until the 82-year-old Mubarak quit.

"The only thing we will accept from him is that he gets on a plane and leaves," said 45-year-old lawyer Ahmed Helmi.

By about 06:00 GMT, three hours before the lifting of the curfew, their numbers had swelled to about 3 000 and more people were converging on the square, witnesses said.

Already political analysts were talking not about whether Mubarak would step down, but when and how.

"The succession is already underway," said Steven Cook at the Council on Foreign Relations on the CFR website.

Free elections

"The important thing now is to manage Mubarak's exit, which must be as graceful as possible at this point. For honour's sake, the brass won't have it any other way."

The military, which has run Egypt since it toppled the monarchy in 1952, will be the key player in deciding who replaces him and some expect it to retain significant power while introducing enough reforms to defuse the protests.

"At this point Suleiman represents the army, not Mubarak," said Fawaz Gerges at the London School of Economics.

"Mubarak has become a liability for the institution of the army," said. "And so it is becoming more difficult by the day for Mubarak to remain in office."

The United States and other Western powers have demanded Mubarak hold free elections. Even if he holds out against calls for his resignation, it seems unlikely he could win a vote.

Washington also said Mubarak must revoke the emergency law under which he has ruled since 1981. It has sent a special envoy, former ambassador to Cairo Frank Wisner, to meet Egyptian leaders. "The way Egypt looks and operates must change," said Robert Gibbs, spokesman for President Barack Obama.

Muslim Brotherhood

Protesters, inspired in part by a revolt in Tunisia which toppled its president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali on January 14, have demanded an end to political oppression.

But years of repression have left few obvious civilian leaders able to fill any gap left by Mubarak.

Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has offered to act as a transitional leader to prepare Egypt for democratic elections. Many Egyptians, however, have said they had reservations about a man who has spent much of his recent career outside the country.

Among the more organised in the opposition is the hitherto banned Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood, which says it supports a pluralist democracy, began with a cautious approach to joining the protests led by the young and urban professional classes. The group has borne the brunt of Mubarak's repressive rule.

But it is now raising its profile, seeking to tie up with ElBaradei. It said on Monday it was calling for protests until the whole establishment departed - "including the president, his party, his ministers and his parliament".


Read more on:    hosni mubarak  |  egypt  |  north africa
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