Stronger sense of Egyptian identity emerges among protesters
Tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters flooded Egypt's Tahrir Square today to press for the departure of President Mubarak. 'I'm here for Egypt,' said one middle-aged man.
For the second Friday in a row, tens of thousands of Egyptian protesters calling for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak and the establishment of democracy here gathered in Tahrir Square in a largely peaceful and joyous scene.Skip to next paragraph
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Today's event was branded as a "day of departure" for Mubarak by overoptimistic organizers. That wasn't forthcoming, but the effort, which appeared to be the largest antigovernment gathering so far, remains a stunning success nonetheless.
This past Tuesday, bowing to demonstrators, Mubarak promised not to run in a presidential election scheduled for September. The next day, pro-regime thugs were unleashed on demonstrators in Tahrir Square, leaving at least eight people dead and hundreds injured.
On Thursday, there was a coordinated crackdown on the foreign press – particularly against satellite TV stations like Al Jazeera, which has been streaming live footage of the protests into millions of Arab and Egyptian homes. Meanwhile, state television was broadcasting reports suggesting that protests were part of a foreign plot.
The increasingly presidential-looking Vice President Omar Suleiman, the former intelligence chief who stepped out of the shadows for the first time last night with a national address, complained that the democracy protesters appeared to be serving a "foreign agenda." He also urged protesters to immediately go home.
All of this appeared to point to another crackdown today, and protesters were prepared for the worst.
"We had 200 casualties coming through here every half-hour on Wednesday. I'm frightened that this afternoon [Friday] could dwarf that," says Mohamed Riad, a doctor volunteering at the makeshift hospital protesters have set up in an alley close to the American University in Cairo. "I think they're going to come down and try to crush this."
His dire prediction wasn't realized, but this morning there were fewer women and children among the protesters than on Wednesday, a testament to the fear sowed by this week's violence. As the afternoon wore on and violence did not materialize, thousands of new protesters poured in to the square, more women and children among them.
The international condemnation of the pro-regime violence this week and the intimidation of the press probably contributed to the peaceful protests today. In Tunisia, a violent crackdown against demonstrators spurred on the opposition, so regime figures may be hoping protests will eventually dwindle on their own before fundamental democratic change is made, particularly after the concessions of this week.
What's next for Cairo?
As night fell, protesters began heading home – some disappointed that Mubarak remains Egypt's leader, at least officially, others murmuring that perhaps they had accomplished enough and it's time for Egypt to return to normal.