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Egypt: An entire people stands up

Published Feb 1, 2011 11:22 PM

The ‘march of millions’ is the answer to decades of oppression in Egypt

Intergenerational uprising on Tuesday in Cairo

Since the early hours of the morning loud music from large speakers in front of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry on the Corniche Al Nile in downtown Cairo has been booming. Shortly past 8 a.m., at the end of the curfew, as the first cars and pedestrians crossed over from the Nile Zamalik in the direction of the city center, an additional person reports to the loudspeaker to speak. He promises that the government understands the concerns of the people and resolves to keep the country in peace and prosperity. A man holds a T-shirt in the air, on which President Hosni Mubarak is caught looking down and smiling. A good three dozen men wave the Egyptian flag and look around uncertainly, and some melancholy men behind them run swiftly past them along the promenade towards Tahrir Square, Liberation Square. While some — probably for fear of losing their jobs — cheer the Mubarak regime — the others will demand this day the resignation of the man who ruled Egypt for 30 years. Only rarely is there even a short battle of words between the two camps, that is then quickly ended by soldiers, who have been blocking for days now bank of the Nile between the State Department and Tahrir Square.

"Today is a big day for us," a young man calls over, "thank you for coming." He has an Egyptian flag slung over him and appears with his friends to be reaching not at all quickly enough Tahrir Square, where today a million people want to meet to march to the president’s palace. The barricades were reinforced overnight, but army spokesman Ismail Etman had already declared the day before that the military will protect the demonstrators. "Everyone has the right to demonstrate peacefully," he told a news conference. "The army respects the legitimate demands of the Egyptians."

Accordingly the crowds streamed cheerfully on this historic Tuesday to the center of Cairo. Young couples and older married couples, groups of co-workers and students, doctors in their scrubs, judges in their robes, chic women and elderly men, with banners, bags, cameras and smiling faces as if they were on their way to a football game or concert. On the military barriers civilian orderlies helped search the bags, to be sure, that no weapons get into the square. Some men are led away as provocateurs. Even as people flock to the place they call out their slogans: "Down with Hosni Mubarak! Mubarak disappear, today." On a large billboard at the edge of the square you can read: "USA, don’t intervene. We demonstrate so, as we want it. You can play your games with the tyrant."

The picture is colorful in Tahrir Square. Women with and without headscarves, men in modern and traditional clothing, water and juice are distributed, everyone has a smile or a kind word for foreigners and journalists, who are all over. A man drives his wheelchair through the crowd and is directed to a safe place on the outskirts, from where he observed the events. As Mahmoud Saad, a prominent leader of the state television, appears on the square, he is lifted on shoulders and hailed by the masses. Just a few days Saad had resigned in protest over the coverage of the broadcast company.

On whatever they can get hold of, on cloth and plastic, milk and water cartons, people write their demands. "Your time is over, now it’s my turn,” a young man has written on a piece of cardboard. “Mubarak, we hate you,” is in English on the poster, which an old man hangs up. "Please go so Egyptians can live in peace."

Whether the march will actually take place is not so important a young man says on the Tahrir Square. "If a million people are protesting today, here or elsewhere in Cairo and other cities, it sends a the clear message to Mubarak: He must go." For the first time in his life he feels like a "responsible citizen” and not as a subject, the man continues. He says his name is "Horus," after an Egyptian deity. All parts of society were gathered in the square, "Men, women, young and old, Christians, Muslims, rich and poor." He had always thought the Egyptians were lethargic, but now they were standing there all upright. “That here is the answer to decades of oppression," he says. "No one can undo it."

Translated from the original German on Junge Welt (Feb. 2) by John Catalinotto

Millions against Mubarak

Egypt's opposition called for a national "March of the millions," on Tuesday [Feb. 1] and the masses came. With the goal of bringing President Hosni Mubarak closer to his resignation, the demonstrators in Cairo wanted to move to the presidential palace, which lies in the affluent district of Heliopolis in the north of the capital. In other cities across the country, including Alexandria and Mansura, people also held large protest marches. A simultaneous general strike led in some places to closing bus and rail services. Banks, government institutions, schools and universities have been closed for days.

The army had made it clear in advance that they would protect the demonstrators. They said they would respect the "legitimate demands" of the Egyptians and not use violence. Military controls were certainly tightened around the central Tahrir Square, but there was an openly friendly mood between soldiers and demonstrators. Even after 3 p.m., the start of the curfew, people were trying to reach the square. They were bunched up in the surrounding streets and on the Kasr Al-Nil Bridge, where during the protests in the past week there was a massive police operation and many deaths. Up to the time this article had to be submitted, the crowd had not yet made its way from the center of the city to the presidential palace. According to observers, more than two million people were on the streets.

Vice President Omar Suleiman, who was recently appointed by President Hosni Mubarak, said on Monday night [Jan. 31] that he had made contact with opposition groups to initiate a dialogue on political reforms. A spokesman for the Parliament had earlier said that the November 2010 elections, which is widely considered to have been falsified, would be reviewed by judges. Representatives of all major opposition parties and movements in Egypt on Tuesday [Feb. 1] agreed on a common position for their country’s renewal. They demand Mubarak's resignation and a “government of national unity.” In addition, the two chambers of parliament and regional parliaments should be disbanded and a new constitution drawn up. The opposition politician Mohamed ElBaradei called on Mubarak to make his office available and to leave the country by Friday [Feb. 4].

Government bodies, meanwhile, shall continue to interfere with the conditions allowing journalists to report. Also on Tuesday the Internet connection remained interrupted and the office of Arab news channel Al-Jazeera remained closed.

Barack Obama, meanwhile, sent his own negotiators to Cairo, among them a Frank Wisner. U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley was quoted in the press as saying these negotiators should then meet with senior Egyptian government representatives and reaffirm Washington’s call for democratic reforms. Wisner, who in 1986-1991 was Washington’s top diplomatic representative in Egypt and later was the U.S. special envoy for Kosovo, should meet even with Mohamed ElBaradei, who is treated by the West as a possible candidate to lead a transitional government. Diplomatic intervention is a sort of family tradition: Frank Wisner senior had, among other things, established the operational department of the CIA and was one of the main actors of Operation Ajax in 1953 against the then Iranian Prime Minister Mossadegh.

Translated from the original German on Junge Welt (Feb. 2) by John Catalinotto