Middle East Features
With blood on Tahrir Square, decision-time in Egypt (News Feature)
By Anne-Beatrice Clasmann Feb 2, 2011, 15:02 GMT
Cairo - Egyptian President Hosny Mubarak, one of the hardest of hardline leaders of the Arab world, has budged.
But whether the aging politician has made enough concessions to take the edge off the protest demanding that he resign immediately is still an open question.
On Tuesday evening, Mubarak delivered a televised speech to say he would not seek re-election in September for another six-year term. On Wednesday in the streets of Cairo, events were moving fast and furious.
The core of the anti-Mubarak demonstrators continued their vocal protest on Tahrir Square against the president, calling for his immediate resignation and that of the new government he appointed earlier in the week.
Not far away, supporters of the National Democratic Party gathered to voice loyalty to Mubarak. Those groups included government henchmen - some carrying knives - who attacked the anti-Mubarak demonstrators.
The sunny winter day in Cairo also witnessed developments on the political level. Party leaders and independent personalities who have been active in and supportive of the demonstrations over the last several days, tried to find common ground.
They discovered this was difficult to achieve. Above all, the Muslim Brotherhood, a political force whose members in recent years have been harassed and arrested, do not trust the president.
They want to topple the entire regime now, including the leaders of the police force who are blamed to a large extent for mistreating respectable citizens in police stations and in prisons.
Eiman Nur, who spent years in prison because he considered running for president in 2005, is unforgiving.
'What Mubarak has offered isn't enough because he has made it clear that while he would not himself run, he wants to reserve the seat for his son, Gamal,' said Nur.
Among the Egyptians who argue for accepting Mubarak's compromise offer are many who still yearn for the end of his nearly 30-year reign.
They have made a decision not to demand his immediate resignation more out of pragmatism than a sign of sympathy for the old pharaoh. They believe that they won't be able to gain anything from army leaders, who pull the strings behind the scenes in Egypt, without risking further escalation of the situation in the streets.
The army apparently is not prepared to hand over political power to a self-appointed transitional government. Using loudspeakers set up on the square, army generals called on demonstrators on both sides to go home.
Well-known Christian businessman Naguib Sawiris and former minister Kamal Abul Magdis are among the independent personalities who are now pleading for further demands to be carried out step by step in order to bring about regime change that is both radical and peaceful.
They met on Wednesday with a group of demonstrators, who, like themselves, are not affiliated with any political party. They all are terribly nervous.
'I am very troubled by my encounter with the demonstrators,' said Sawiris as he took a seat in the studio of the news channel Al- Arabiya.
When the moderator asked whether he had been harried by the crowd, the billionaire businessman responded happily with a smile, 'No, the opposite, they uplifted me.'
He said he could hardly believe that suddenly everyone in Egypt is allowed to express their opinion openly. As earlier in Tunisia, the people of Egypt have been gripped by freedom of opinion.
Even Mubarak, who is famous for obstinacy, cannot escape this new spirit. In his television speech on Tuesday evening he didn't entirely set aside the usual pomp, but was unable to resist an opportunity to berate the Muslim Brotherhood, although he didn't name them. He in fact spoke for the first time as a mortal.
'I want to die in this country,' the 82-year-old leader said, sounding like someone who knows that he possibly might not have long to live.
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