Protesters in Egypt are keeping up the pressure, with tens of thousands of people gathering in central Cairo for the seventh day running. Protestors are calling for a general strike and a “million man march” in the capital tomorrow. RNW’s correspondent (who cannot be named) is in Cairo and sent us this report.
Protesters in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square on Sunday were treated to a show of government force as F-16 fighters from the Egyptian Air Force repeatedly flew low over the crowds. But the roaring fighters failed to scare away the thousands of defiant young demonstrators. It was symbolic of the stand-off that has gripped Egypt for a week, as demonstrators refuse to be satisfied with anything less than the ousting of
President Hosni Mubarak.
Watch below a video report by AFP on the situation in Cairo:
Too little, too late
The president’s dismissal of the cabinet and appointment of the Chief of Intelligence, General Omar Suleiman, as Vice-President was too little, too late for the demonstrators. And the steps taken by Mubarak to calm the situation pleased opposition leaders even less.
Nobel Prize Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei (who joined the demonstrators in Tahrir square for the first time on Sunday evening), dismissed the move and demanded that President Mubarak step down immediately to open the way for real change in the country he has ruled with an iron grip for thirty years.
The Islamist writer and thinker Said Al-Awa also categorically rejected Mubarak’s gesture in an interview with Radio Netherlands Worldwide. He said ‘It is only a pre-emptive measure aimed at aborting the revolution of the Egyptian people.’
"Egypt is not Tunisia"
On the other hand, Khaled Zaghloul, a senior editor of Al Ahram daily argued that "Egypt is not Tunisia. It’s the military establishment which has been ruling Egypt since the 1952 revolution of Gamal Abdel Nasser. The army is the only guarantee for any peaceful transition in Egypt."
For thirty years President Mubarak has resisted appointing a Vice-President. Agreeing to appoint general Omar Suleiman now effectively means handing over power to him. According to Zaghloul, President Mubarak’s role until September’s presidential elections will only be symbolic.
"The army is now in charge and is badly needed to restore law and order in Cairo. The era of Mubarak is practically over now," he said. Even ElBaradei told the press and demonstrators that the opposition parties and groups have pleaded with Mubarak to talk to the army an seek a peaceful transition of power.
All the major players, locally and internationally, agree that the Egyptian army will decide the country’s fate in the next few days. But is the army itself willing to listen to others and take their considerations into account? Cairo was unimpressed with Sunday evening’s TV appearance by President Mubarak together with his newly appointed Vice-President, Prime Minister, and Chief of Staff at the army operations headquarter.
Outspoken opposition figure Sameh Ashouyr told RNW that he saw it as "a sign that Mubarak is still clinging to power and is not willing to give up." Many others are worried that Vice-President Omar Suleiman will be too loyal to Mubarak to push him aside and take the tough decisions needed to bring about real change.
Journalist Sana Ali (32), says Omar Suleiman was a good Chief of Intelligence and a patient negotiator behind closed doors. "But he obviously lacks charisma and a confirming performance in front of cameras. And above all, he is 76 years old, only a few years younger than President Mubarak."
Since the police abruptly and surprisingly withdrew from the streets of Cairo on Saturday the army has deployed hundreds of armoured personnel carriers and tanks to protect strategic and sensitive locations in all Egypt’s major cities.
But the troops themselves – both officers and soldiers – have avoided provoking or clashing with the demonstrators in contrast to the often brutal police. The army has thus enjoyed a friendly and enthusiastic reception from the young demonstrators.
"It is the duty of the army to protect the nation, not to oppress it," says Sami Abdullah, a 27-year-old post-graduate student of economics, while Said Al-Awa concluded that the army is most welcome to take sides with the people. "But if we invited it into politics for whatever reason, then it will take us another six decades to send them back to the barracks."