CAIRO — Defying a wider government crackdown, tens of thousands of Egyptians packed Cairo’s central Tahrir Square on Friday, chanting slogans, bowing in prayer and waving Egyptian flags to press a campaign for the removal of President Hosni Mubarak that has transfixed the Arab world and tested American diplomacy. Some carried baskets of bread, food and water for those who camped out in the central square overnight after days of running battles, apparently anticipating a long siege to urge the president to depart and seeking to maintain the momentum of their protests at one of Egypt’s most decisive moments since the 1952 revolution that toppled the monarchy.
As the uprising entered its 11th day, the numbers of the protesters and their passion seemed to offer a sharp rejection of the authorities’ attempt to regain the initiative with a startling blend of authoritarianism and repentance. www.dominicanflash.com The government broadened its crackdown on Thursday, arresting journalists and human rights advocates across an edgy city, while offering more concessions in a bid to win support from a population growing frustrated with a devastated economy and scenes of chaos in the streets.
After a night of scattered clashes and bursts of gunfire, an uneasy calm prevailed on Friday as antigovernment protesters mustered for what they have called a “Friday of departure” in hopes of maintaining the momentum behind demands that Mr. Mubarak step down after three decades in power. Television images showed thousands of protesters crowded beneath the palm trees of Alexandria, Egypt’s second-largest city on the Mediterranean coast, waving Egyptian flags and demanding Mr. Mubarak’s ouster.
In a highly unusual move, the defense minister, Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, appeared in the square on Friday — the first member of the ruling government elite to do so. As he inspected troops there, protesters cheers him and formed a human chain in order, they said, to prevent any hostile action against him. “We have faith and trust in the Egyptian military,” said one of those in the chain, Amr Makleb, 28.
Hoping to repeat their successful tactic of a week ago, when demonstrators poured from Cairo’s many mosques to press their uprising, protesters said they were planning a similar surge after noon prayers on Friday. But one big difference was that last week the protesters confronted the police at the start of a day of violence and looting. Since then, though, the uniformed police force has largely disappeared from the streets and the protesters have clashed with pro-Mubarak adversaries they accuse of being sponsored by the government.
On Friday, there was no immediate signs of the pro-Mubarak camp.
On one approach to Tahrir Square on Friday, two orderly lines of protesters stretched back hundreds of yards on the Kasr al-Nil bridge, their progress slowed by elite paratroops who threw razor wire across the bridge and searched demonstrators as they arrived — apparently a new attempt by the military to assert some control.
On Thursday, the authorities said that neither President Mubarak nor his son Gamal, long seen as a contender for power, would run for president. It also offered dialogue with the banned Muslim Brotherhood, gestures almost unthinkable weeks ago.
For its part, the Brotherhood insisted on Friday that it had no ambitions to field presidential candidates if those talks took place. But, speaking to reporters in Tahrir Square, Mohammed el-Beltagui, a leading member of the outlawed group, said that, Mr. Mubarak left, the Brotherhood — the most organized opposition in the country — would not present a candidate for election.
“It is not a retreat. It is to take away the scare tactics that Hosni Mubarak uses to deceive the people here and abroad that he should stay in power,” Mr. Beltagui said. A close ally of the United States, Mr. Mubarak has cast himself for years as a bulwark against Islamic extremism.
The Brotherhood has assumed an increasingly prominent role in the uprising, but its disavowal of long-term political ambitions seemed to contradict an assertion on Friday from Iran that Egypt was in the throes of an Islamic revolution similar to the tumult that ended the rule of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in Tehran in 1979. “The awakening of the Islamic Egyptian people is an Islamic liberation movement and I, in the name of the Iranian government, salute the Egyptian people and the Tunisian people,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, said at Friday prayers in Tehran which were broadcast on television, Reuters reported.
On a larger scale than on previous days, thousands of people in Tahrir Square sank to their knees at noon as loudspeakers amplified the sound of prayers filling the air. But those in the square reflected a cross-section of society, not just members of the Muslim Brotherhood. The minute the prayers were over, the square erupted in slogans of defiance, urging Mr. Mubarak to go. www.wdalaw.com
Propelling the protesters , many said that their determination was blending with a fear that if they lost, the protesters and their organizers would bear the brunt of a withering crackdown.