Egypt stocks down, protester morale up as they prepare for Friday

Egypt's benchmark stock index plunged as much as 10 percent today, amid wild rumors that businessmen close to President Hosni Mubarak were preparing to flee the country and as protesters vowed to take to the streets once again in large numbers following afternoon prayers tomorrow.

Small groups of protesters clashed with police in Cairo and in Suez, the port city along the strategic canal that links the Red Sea to the Mediterranean, demonstrators torched a police post, furious at the killings and arrests of demonstrators earlier in the week, Al Jazeera reports. Today appears to have been far calmer than Tuesday and Wednesday, but the simple fact that protesters have maintained a presence on the streets in face of a strong government crackdown has put them in uncharted territory. Monitor Correspondent Kristen Chick captured the mood among demonstrators in this piece from yesterday:

"This is Egyptian democracy!” shouted one young man, pointing at a bandage on his forehead from a wound he suffered when police beat him at Tuesday’s protest. “I came out again today to say we want freedom for our country. I will come tomorrow. If it takes a year, I will stay for a year. We will die in the streets if we have to.”

Friday and Saturday are the weekly holidays in Egypt and demonstrators are vowing a massive turnout after noon prayers tomorrow. Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency who has emerged in the past year as a campaigner for political reform in Egypt, told Reuters he was returning to Egypt from his home in Vienna today and that he planned to join Friday's protests.

Mubarak "has served the country for 30 years and it is about time for him to retire... Tomorrow is going to be, I think, a major demonstration all over Egypt and I will be there with them," he told Reuters. In an interview with the Monitor last February, he said he wanted constitutional and political changes that would give Egyptians a real voice in their government.

“I believe that the time has come for Egypt to make a serious move towards real democracy … This is what I am advocating and is my primary goal: creating the environment that enables the Egyptians to feel that they are in charge of their destiny. If this environment is to be created whoever is going to be elected as president is of secondary importance. The focus should be to create a government of law and not a government of men.”

Issandr El Amrani summarizes this morning's papers in Cairo and is scathing about the large government-owned press: "The policy for the state press has changed from ignoring the situation to scaremongering about chaos." His translation of the lead-in to an article in Rose al-Youssef, a populist tabloid close to the Mubarak regime, has a particular whistling past the graveyard flavor to it. "In an exclusive interview, the Minister of Interior affirms that the Egyptian state is not fragile. This regime is supported by millions of Egyptians and a few thousand protestors will not destabilize it."

Interior Minister Habib el-Adly is the man in charge of the riot police and baltageya, or plain-clothes thugs, who have been violently seeking to break up protests in the past few days and calls for his own downfall have wrung out amid the denunciations of Mubarak and his son and presumed successor Gamal at protests this week.

One man who has not been heard from since unprecedented anti-government protests broke out on Tuesday has been President Mubarak himself, who has neither addressed the nation over the current crisis on television or issued any formal statements in his name. The 82-year-old president has ruled Egypt since 1981, and speculation has swirled over whether he will stand again in the presidential election scheduled for September or stand aside in favor of his son.

The ruling National Democratic Party has promised a press conference to address recent events at 3:30 local time (8:30 EST). The press and Egyptian people will be eagerly watching to see what concessions, if any, will be made to Egypt's protesters.

IN PICTURES: Egyptian protests

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