CAIRO (Reuters) - Opponents and supporters of President Hosni Mubarak fought with fists, stones and clubs in Cairo on Wednesday in what appeared to be a move by forces loyal to the Egyptian leader to end protests calling for him to quit.
Mubarak said on Tuesday he would step down at the end of his term in September after massive demonstrations demanding the end of his 30-year rule, spurning a U.S. call for an immediate democratic transition.
On Wednesday the army told protesters it was time to help Egypt return to normal.
”Mubarak is sending to the streets his gangs of thieves and criminals, who have been newly released from prison and armed with knives, clubs and pistols, to scare the people.
”I call on wise people in the West to appeal to the Egyptian authorities and the army to protect the safety of the people.
”Mubarak is writing the worst chapter of Egyptian history.
“The world is watching the real image of this dictatorship. He is another (deposed Romanian president Nicolae) Ceausescu or Saddam Hussein.”
”...Mubarak’s announcement that he will not seek re-election in September 2011 represents the start of a long, drawn-out, and messy negotiation process between the government and the opposition. Both Mubarak and the opposition will downplay the significance of the speech. But it represents a breakthrough. In the medium term, these negotiations will likely produce an Egypt best described as a hybrid democracy, combining a strong military with a more pluralistic electoral system.
”Mubarak’s speech...was formulated to superficially display his resolve. He denounced the protesters, threatening to take legal action against the instigators, and said that he has withdrawn the offer to have Vice President Omar Suleiman speak to opposition leaders. Mubarak also declared that he would die in Egypt, a direct reference to protesters who have demanded his departure.
”But the critical point was his definitive statement that he will not seek re-election in 2011 and that parliament will amend articles 76 and 77 of the Egyptian constitution -- the two amendments inserted in 2007 which place stringent limits on who can run for president.
“Thus, Mubarak yielded on two key protester demands.”
”I was against him, I was among the opposition. But I changed by mind because he met my demand...on the rotation of power and agreed for a set limit for the president’s term. We Egyptian people are emotional, he is after all one of us. He does not deserve to have the same fate as (ousted and exiled Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine) Ben Ali. Egyptians don’t forget those who sacrifice for them. I want him to leave power but I don’t want him to go into exile.
“If he leaves like that, Egypt will be in a mess. We have changed our mind.”
Others in the cafe in central Cairo echoed his view. Watching Egypt state TV repeats of Mubarak’s speech, they said they had been keen to oust him but now felt he had done enough, and should be allowed to bow out gracefully in September when presidential elections are due.
ROBERT DANIN, FORMER SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL NOW AT COUNCIL ON
”This (Mubarak’s plan to stay on until September) appears to be a clear rebuff to the Obama administration and to the international community’s efforts to try to help manage a peaceful transition from Mubarak to a new, democratic Egypt.
“If the army starts to use violence against the demonstrators, it will lose its legitimacy as the remaining institution that is venerated by the Egyptian people.”