Saturday, February 05, 2011
Hundreds of thousands of defiant Egyptians marched peacefully in Cairo and other Egyptian cities Friday to demand an end to Hosni Mubarak’s rule while varying scenarios were being put forward for the first time in the 11-day-old wave of protests.
A handful of prominent figures from academia and business said they will meet the Omar Suleiman Saturday to propose a compromise under which the vice president would take over real authority.
Suleiman has offered negotiations with all political forces over constitutional changes needed to ensure a free vote ahead of September elections.
Throughout the day Cairo’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square was teeming with people chanting “Leave, leave, leave!,” waving Egyptian flags and singing the national anthem. Turnout nationwide seemed short of the more than 1 million seen Tuesday, which protest leaders had hoped to match on what they called “Departure Day.”
The Egyptian Health Ministry said 11 people have been killed and at least 5,000 have been injured since Wednesday in clashes between pro-Mubarak and anti-regime protesters. The state-run newspaper Al-Ahram also said Egyptian reporter, Ahmad Mohammad Mahmoud, who was shot during clashes earlier this week has died of his wounds, the first reported journalist death in the turmoil. According to U.N. estimates, at least 300 people have been killed since Jan. 25.
A curfew in place for a week was eased Friday, now running from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. instead of 5 p.m. to 7 a.m. But demonstrations continued well into the night in Tahrir Square and protesters held a sit-in in Alexandria. Prime Minister Ahmad Shafiq earlier said the government will not use force against those defying the curfew in Tahrir Square.
Isolated clashes were reported in Cairo late at night, away from Tahrir Square demonstrations, Al-Jazeera said. Groups of Mubarak loyalists harassed journalists. Others tried to deter people from demonstrating. But there was little of the extreme violence seen Wednesday and Thursday.
Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, one of the leaders of the protesters, criticized the government’s plan to reform the Constitution within five months so presidential elections can be held on schedule in September. He said that was too rushed and indicated the regime was not serious about real change.
It would take a full year under a transitional government, ElBaradei said, to sufficiently loosen the ruling party’s entrenched monopoly on Egypt’s politics before truly fair elections can be held.
“People are not stupid … This is not really a genuine desire to go for reform,” ElBaradei said of the government’s September timeframe. He said Mubarak must “hear the clear voice coming from the people and leave in dignity.”
But Mubarak has staunchly refused to step down, and his prime minister said Friday that stance is “unlikely” to change. “We need President Mubarak to stay for legislative reasons,” Shafiq told Al-Arabiya.
“More than 95 percent of the Egyptian people would vote for the president to complete his presidential term … and not [retire] now as America and some Western states want,” he was quoted as saying by state media earlier.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s supreme guide Mohammad Badie said Friday the group is ready for talks on the transition once Mubarak has resigned, in his first public statement on the crisis. “We have a single demand. Once it is met we will engage in dialogue,” he told Al-Jazeera in response to a question about the Muslim Brotherhood’s willingness to enter dialogue with Suleiman.
ElBaradei said he respects Suleiman as someone to negotiate with over the transition, but did not address whether he should have any presidential role.
ElBaradei said he was consulting with prominent lawyers and experts to draw up a temporary constitution. He called for a transitional government headed by a presidential council made up of two or three figures, including a military representative. It would hold power for a year as a permanent constitution is drawn up, then elections could be held.
He said he could run in Egypt’s presidential elections if the Egyptian people asked him to, denying a report in an Austrian newspaper that he would not run.
“This is not true,” ElBaradei told Al-Jazeera. “If the Egyptian people want me to continue the change process, I will not disappoint the Egyptian people.”
Several celebrities of Egyptian cinema and TV joined the march, including Sherihan, a beloved screen beauty from the 1980s and early 1990s.
Arab League chief Amr Moussa also appeared in the square Friday to visit protesters in what appeared to be a trial balloon for running for Egypt’s presidency.
His convoy was greeted by supporters with chants of “we want you as president, we want you as president.” Moussa, previously a foreign minister under Mubarak, has an elder statesman appeal for some Egyptians, boosted by his tough rhetoric against Israel.
Asked earlier by France’s Europe 1 radio if he would consider a role in the transitional government or an eventual presidential run, Moussa replied, “Why say no?” Moussa said he believed Mubarak would hold on until September’s election. – Agencies