Egyptians poured into Cairo’s Tahrir Square after Friday prayers demanding that President Hosni Mubarak leave office after resorting to violence to suppress a 10-day uprising.
Tens of thousands of protesters sang the national anthem, repeatedly chanted the word “illegitimate” and called today “the day of departure.” One held up a sign reading: “Game Over.” Some pro-government demonstrators held pictures of Mubarak. There was no initial violence, following two days of brutal clashes between the two sides that left several people dead as Mubarak supporters attacked protesters, journalists and human rights observers.
With U.S. President Barack Obama pushing for a faster transition, Mubarak has replaced ministers and promised free elections before stepping down in September. That hasn’t assuaged protesters who say his 30 years in power must end now as unrest spreads to other Arab nations. U.S. and Egyptian officials held talks on a proposed transitional regime led by his deputy, Omar Suleiman, to include the banned Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition groups, the New York Times said. Germany’s Angela Merkel said today may be “decisive.”
Today “may mark the turning point to see whether this uprising is going to continue or whether the regime will sort of be able to wear it down,” Michael Hudson, director of the Middle East Institute at the National University of Singapore, told Bloomberg Television.
Crude rose 0.1 percent to $90.67 a barrel at 11:05 a.m. in London, extending its increase since Jan. 27 to almost 6 percent. Dubai’s benchmark stock index fell 3.8 percent last week. Egypt’s stock market and banking system have been closed for a week, shielding the Egyptian pound, which traded at about 5.86 per dollar on Jan. 27.
“Over the short term we expect the Egyptian pound to fall by 20 percent, which would require the central bank to intervene on several occasions,” said John Sfakianakis, the Riyadh-based chief economist at Banque Saudi Fransi, in a research note today. He estimated the damage to Egypt’s economy from the crisis as at least $310 million a day and said a transition of power will probably happen “sooner rather than later.”
The 82-year-old Egyptian president told ABC television late yesterday that he feared “there will be chaos” if he abruptly quits, and warned that the Muslim Brotherhood will come to power. Obama’s administration hasn’t publicly repudiated its longtime ally Mubarak, who has backed efforts to encourage Arab acceptance of Israel and marginalize the Islamist Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip. Egypt is one of the biggest recipients of U.S. aid.
U.S. and Egyptian officials are discussing a plan under which Suleiman, backed by Lieutenant General Sami Enan, chief of the Egyptian armed forces, and Field Marshal Mohammed Tantawi, the defense minister, would immediately begin a process of constitutional reform, the New York Times reported today, citing unnamed administration officials.
The U.S. Senate yesterday approved a resolution that calls on Mubarak to immediately begin a “transfer of power to an inclusive interim caretaker government” before Egypt holds elections later this year.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the former United Nations nuclear chief and a leader of the opposition, said Mubarak’s opponents want the president to leave with “dignity.”
“We are not in any way interested in retribution,” he said at a press conference at his home in Cairo. “The Egyptian people by their nature are not bloodthirsty.”
Journalists and charity workers were targeted by security forces after clashes broke out yesterday, prompting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to condemn the actions as “unacceptable under any circumstances.”
Several aid workers were detained in raids on the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, an Egyptian law firm based in Cairo and Aswan, including one working for Amnesty International and another for Human Rights Watch. Egypt has also sought to curb the flow of information during the crisis, cutting off access to the Internet and mobile phone services.
At least nine people were killed in the violence over the past 48 hours, the International Committee of the Red Cross said today, citing figures from the Egyptian Ministry of Health. The ICRC estimates that as many as 2,000 people have been injured over the past few days.
In Brussels, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters before a European Union summit that today’s demonstrations will be “decisive” and called for an “orderly” transition in Egypt. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said any more violence against protesters will mean “Egypt and its regime would lose any remaining credibility or support it has in the eyes of the watching world.”
Other Arab countries gripped by the spreading instability in the Middle East include Yemen, where police used tear gas against anti-government protests yesterday, and Jordan, which sacked its government this week. Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said yesterday that a 19-year-old state of emergency will be lifted “in the very near future.” The protests began in Tunisia, where President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was forced from office last month after two decades years in power.
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