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Army pledges to allow protests as Egyptians mass in Tahrir Square

In a move that seemed to embolden the opposition's 'million man march' on Tahrir Square, the Egyptian Army recognized 'the legitimacy of the people's demands.'

By Staff writer / February 1, 2011

Supporters of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak demonstrate in front of an Egyptian army checkpoint in Cairo on Feb. 1. Mubarak's grip on Egypt looked increasingly tenuous on Tuesday after the army pledged not to confront protesters who converged in Cairo in their tens of thousands to demand an end to his 30-year rule.

Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters

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Egyptians stepped up their protests Tuesday against the regime of President Hosni Mubarak, massing for what they billed as a “million man march” and confident in the Army’s promise not to stop them with force.

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Tens of thousands of Egyptians converged toward Tahrir Square – epicenter of a week of protests – for what was expected to be the largest event yet in a week of dramatic protests. The military announced overnight Monday that it recognized “the legitimacy of the people’s demands,” and soldiers permitted rivers of people to gather.

The military “has not and will not use force against the public,” spokesman Ismail Etman said on state TV Monday night, adding, “the freedom of peaceful expression is guaranteed for everyone.”

The message from the top brass meant for Mr. Mubarak was that he could not count on the military to save three decades of rule. It emboldened the opposition, just as a White House envoy – former US ambassador to Egypt Frank Wisner – arrived in Cairo to help facilitate an “orderly transition.”

“Today is a pivotal moment, for the opposition and for Egypt; the opposition is trying to flex its social muscle," says Fawaz Gerges, director of the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics. "The final nail was the military’s announcement that it would not use force against the Egyptian people. The momentum is against Mubarak … and it would be extremely unlikely that [Mubarak] would be able to survive such a convergence of pressures against him.”

The offer by the regime to engage the opposition, alongside the Army, may shape a different future, adds Mr. Gerges, though popular response is uncertain: “I would not underestimate what has emerged…. This is really the beginning of a new formula to resolve the political crisis in Egypt.”

Military gets warm reception

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