Egyptians seek million-strong march to oust Mubarak
Feb 01, 2011 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Feb 01, 2011 12:00 am
Egypt's anti-government protesters, scenting victory after President Hosni Mubarak agreed to discuss sweeping political reforms, rallied support for what they hope can be a million-strong march for democracy on Tuesday.
Mubarak's newly appointed vice-president began talks with opposition figures and the army declared the protesters demands "legitimate" and said it would hold its fire.
But protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square, where thousands 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.
The United States and other Western powers which have backed Mubarak throughout his 30 years of rule, have demanded he submit to free elections. Even if he holds out against the calls for his resignation, it seems unlikely he could win a vote.
At least 140 people have died since demonstrations began last Tuesday, inspired in part by Tunisians' overthrow of their aging strongman after similar protests focusing on economic hardships and frustration with political oppression.
The army's pledge to hold its fire was seen as tipping the scales against Mubarak. "Mubarak has become a liability for the institution of the army," Fawaz Gerges of the London School of Economics said. "And so it is becoming more difficult by the day for Mubarak to remain in office."
For the military establishment, which has run Egypt since its officers ousted British-backed King Farouk in 1952, the aim may be to provide reforms that preserve military influence.
For Washington and Mubarak's allies in Europe, as well as Israel, attention will focus on how far Islamist groups, notably the hitherto banned Muslim Brotherhood, can gain power in any new Egyptian political system.
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 organized 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."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, used to calm on his southern border since a 1979 peace treaty with Cairo, said Egypt could turn into the kind of militant theocracy installed in Iran that same year.
Suleiman appeared on state television on Monday to say Mubarak had asked him to begin talks with all political forces on reforms. Some saw his appearance -- rather than that of the president -- as a sign Mubarak was already on his way out.
A presidential election due in September might give Mubarak the opportunity simply to say he will not run again. But such a tactic may underestimate the desire on the street to see him go.
"This all aims to gain time, calm the mood on the street, drive the protesters away and diminish the revolution ... The president must end his rule and leave, there is no alternative," Cairo University politics professor Hassan Nafaa said.
At least 140 people have died since demonstrations began last Tuesday.
In Egypt's second city, Alexandria, thousands of people gathered near the main railway station, many with food and blankets, saying they would join Tuesday's "march of a million."
Officials said rail services would be disrupted on Tuesday by curfew orders, which may keep some people away from protests.
With internet access cut off, Google Inc said it was launching a special service to allow people to send Twitter messages by dialing a phone number and leaving a voicemail.
Foreign governments, meanwhile, scrambled to ensure the safety of their nationals trapped by the unrest in Egypt. Companies also pulled out staff as confrontation brought economic life to a halt.
The unrest has spooked markets on fears it could spread across the Middle East, including to oil producing states like Saudi Arabia. Europe's benchmark Brent crude oil rose above $100 a barrel for the first time since 2008 on Monday.