Mubarak names deputy, protesters defy curfew

CAIRO Sat Jan 29, 2011 6:47pm EST

1 of 35. Demonstrators celebrate atop an army tank in Tahrir square during protests in Cairo January 29, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Yannis Behrakis

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CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's street protesters pushed President Hosni Mubarak into naming a deputy who might in time succeed him, but thousands went on defying a curfew and urging the army to join them in forcing Mubarak from power immediately.

Police shot dead 17 people at Beni Suef, south of Cairo, as pressure mounted on Mubarak from allies in Washington and Europe to restrain his police and speed a democratic transition that would end his 30 years of one-man rule.

Thousands marched in Cairo by day, unmolested by troops who manned tanks on the streets. After dark, police there opened fire in at least one incident, looters roamed for booty, and the national tax office was set ablaze. Recalling eastern Europe in 1989, one analyst called it "the Arab world's Berlin moment."

In naming intelligence chief Omar Suleiman vice-president, many saw Mubarak edging toward an eventual, army-approved handover of power. The 82-year-old former general has long kept his 80 million people guessing over succession plans that had, until this week, seemed to focus on grooming his son Gamal, 47.

Gamal's hopes now seem remote. The promotion of Suleiman, 74, a key player in ties with the United States and Israel, and the appointment of another military man, Ahmed Shafiq, as prime minister pleased some Egyptians worried about looming chaos.

According to various estimates about 100 people have been killed during the week, in the capital and other cities. Medical sources say at least 1,030 people were hurt in Cairo. Among the dead were three policemen killed in the capital.

President Barack Obama met Vice President Joe Biden and national security adviser Tom Donilon to discuss unrest in the Arab power that is a linchpin of U.S. Middle East strategy.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the Egyptian government "can't reshuffle the deck and then stand pat."

"He is just like Mubarak, there is no change," one protester said of Suleiman outside the Interior Ministry, where thousands were protesting. The last vice-president was Mubarak himself, before he succeeded the assassinated Anwar Sadat in 1981.

Later, police opened fire on a crowd hundreds strong at the ministry. A Reuters reporter saw one protester fall wounded.

"BERLIN MOMENT"

"This is the Arab world's Berlin moment," said Fawaz Gerges of the London School of Economics. "The authoritarian wall has fallen, and that's regardless of whether Mubarak survives.

"The barrier of fear has been removed. It is really the beginning of the end of the status quo in the region."

The prospect of even greater upheaval across the Middle East -- regardless of whether it is the crowd or their rulers who get the upper hand -- is prompting some investors to see risks for oil supplies that could in turn hamper global economic growth.

More immediately, Egypt's vital tourist industry is taking a knock. In prosperous parts of Cairo, vigilantes guarded homes, shops and hotels from looters. Thieves at the Egyptian Museum damaged two mummies from the time of the pharaohs.

Of Suleiman's appointment, analyst Gamal Abdel Gawad Soltan said: "This is the beginning of a process of power transfer."

At the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Jon Alterman said: "I can't see how this is not the beginning of the end of Mubarak's presidency. It seems that his task now is to try and manage the transition past his leadership. I have a hard time believing that he will be the president in a year."

Many saw Mubarak's concessions as echoes of those made two weeks ago by Tunisia's Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. Just a day later, Ben Ali had fled his country, deserted by an army which preferred to back less hated figures in his government.

Tunisians' Internet-fed uprising over economic hardship and political oppression has inspired growing masses of unemployed youth across the Arab world, leaving autocratic leaders worried.

With the French and British leaders, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: "We call on President Mubarak to renounce any violence again unarmed civilians." The European trio also called for "free and fair elections" -- something that few doubt would end the grip of the establishment build up around Mubarak.

ISLAMISTS

Like other Arab leaders, the president portrays himself as a bulwark against the West's Islamist enemies. But Egypt's banned opposition movement the Muslim Brotherhood has been only one element in the week's events. It lays claim to moderation.

"A new era of freedom and democracy is dawning in the Middle East," Kamel El-Helbawy, a cleric from the Brotherhood said from exile in London. "Islamists would not be able to rule Egypt alone. We should and would cooperate."

A Brotherhood lawyer in Egypt told Reuters that Mubarak's hesitation to meet protesters' demands had increased appetite for change. Abdel-Moneim Abdel-Maksoud said Mubarak should step down -- but that an interim government was needed to preserve order for some months until free elections.

On the Corniche promenade alongside the River Nile in Cairo, people stayed out after the curfew deadline, standing by tanks and chatting with soldiers who took no action to disperse them.

At one point, dozens of people approached a military cordon carrying a sign reading "Army and People Together." Soldiers pulled back and let the group through: "There is a curfew," one lieutenant said. "But the army isn't going to shoot anyone."

THE ARMY'S MOMENT

While the police are generally feared as an instrument of repression, the army is seen as a national institution.

Rosemary Hollis, at London's City University, said the army had to decide whether it stood with Mubarak or the people: "It's one of those moments where as with the fall of communism in Eastern Europe they can come down to individual lieutenants and soldiers to decide whether they fire on the crowd or not."

In Alexandria, police used teargas and live ammunition against demonstrators earlier on Saturday. Protests continued in the port city after curfew, witnesses said.

So far, the protest movement seems to have no clear leader or organization. Prominent activist Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Laureate for his work with the U.N. nuclear agency, returned to Egypt from Europe to join the protests. But many Egyptians feel he has not spent enough time in the country.

"Hosni Mubarak has not heard the people," ElBaradei told Al Jazeera, renewing his call for the president to step down.

Banks will be shut on Sunday as "a precaution," Central Bank Governor Hisham Ramez told Reuters. The stock market, whose benchmark index tumbled 16 percent in two days, will also be closed on Sunday. The Egyptian pound fell to six-year lows.

(Additional reporting by Dina Zayed, Marwa Awad, Shaimaa Fayed, Sherine El Madany, Yasmine Saleh, Alison Williams and Samia Nakhoul in Cairo, Alexander Dziadosz in Suez, Arshad Mohammed in Washington and Peter Apps, Angus MacSwan and William Maclean in London; Writing by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Ralph Boulton)

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Comments (25)
ROWnine wrote:
Sun Tzu said disrupt your enemies alliances not disrupt your allies alliances! Anyone who has ever been in a fight knows that when breaking up a fight you don’t grab your friend so the other guy has an opportunity to smack him in the jaw one last time, you pull the other guy off and let your friend get one the last one in. Want to know why we loved Golda or the Iron lady because they were more like grandma and less like the hippie dippy peace ,love and the Beatles jerks who are all mouth and act all indignant when someone in the real world stuffs a fist in it!

Jan 28, 2011 9:07pm EST  --  Report as abuse
‘free’ the Egyptian people to the claws of the Brotherhood of Islam.

Hopefully those who support Regimes such as current one in power in Egypt, Israel, Iran, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iraq. Pakistan, China INC, US etc finally realise if the morality does not match the rhetoric eventually the hypocrisy will become too much to bare and an even worse outcome can appear acceptable.

One has to realise there is no such thing as freedom only the relative independence nature and fellow humans allow.

Anyone claiming to ‘free’ anyone is only intending to change the chains.

So one has to examine very carefully what is this ‘free’ which seeks to smother a reasoned reflection of what a ‘free’ state is.

For who would question the right of people to be ‘free’ even given it is an illusion? Surely a fascist.

It is a real worry given ElBaradei would not tell the truth regards Iran’s nuclear program.

Also demanding Mubarak as well as his son be excluded from presidential elections given it is a relatively fair contest does not sound like a Democrat to me.

Also major support in this uprising and I would imagine the violence and the police reaction to it is coming as a result of Islamic Brotherhood action on the ground.

So before yelling for regime change, Egyptians and the rest of us should take a breath and see what this actually means in reality.

Clearly the current Egyptian regime needs to be made accountable but if the West and the Egyptian citizens push to hard without knowing the outcome things may will be much worse for the Egyptian people in the long run as well as for the rest of us.

Jan 29, 2011 12:48am EST  --  Report as abuse
Ahmed1 wrote:
The US State department and the White House have not ceased to surprise me in this crisis. Why in the name of God and Jesus and all the prophets are you still supporting the dictator (ah, sorry, I forgor Mr. Biden said yesterday that Mubarak is not a dictator) How can Saddam be a dictator but, Mubarak not a dictator? Can someone please explain to me, or get me a cup of coffee. May be I am stoned or something! The guy is a tyrant who rulled for 30 years! What message are you giving to the young Egyptians who were taught in American schools and colleges? I don’t know who is the smart person in the State Department or the White House that Mubarak was able to convince that he is the only person who is abl to protect Egypt from an Islamic regime and the US from terrorist attacks. Why are you still supporting Mubarak? Egypt will only have a secular regime who will honor the peace treaty with Israel. Why are you still supporting Mubarak? These policies are only alignating your biggest supporters in Egypt, the young educated facebook youth who led the revolution. I mean really, what do you want? An Islamic revolution! This just bewilders me. I really wonder now if the US government knows what they want. What is the message you are giving to those youth? We do not do what we preach. We support democracy inside the US, but stand against it outside the US. Should I go congratulate the Moslem Brotherhood for their young educated members, who were once upon a time secular-minded and inspired by the West, but then were let down by the US government?

Jan 29, 2011 1:44am EST  --  Report as abuse
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