Middle East

Egypt protests: Cairo split over Hosni Mubarak future

A young anti-government protester at the demonstration in Tahrir Square, Cairo
Image caption Though of all ages and persuasions, demonstrators all say they want a person of their choosing in power

After Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak warned of the "chaos" that would follow if he left office immediately, anti-government demonstrators said they were more determined than ever to put on an organised show.

Behind lines of soldiers, volunteers surrounding Tahrir Square in the heart of Cairo checked identity cards and apologetically frisked new arrivals.

"I'm so sorry," Fatma told me as she inspected my bag. "You are welcome here. We must just check everyone to make sure there are no weapons."

Overnight there had been further clashes between the protesters and angry mobs that support the president and want to drive them away.

But the scene was calm by the time thousands knelt in lines to worship for Friday prayers. A few families and single women began to join the crowds.

Recent violence had left mostly young men in the square - many of them recognisably Islamists.

It helped to fuel claims made by Mr Mubarak and his officials that the main opposition group - the illegal Muslim Brotherhood - was behind the uprising.

At the latest rally many people were well aware of this assertion.

"Mr Mubarak is using this threat [about Islamists]," said a businessman wearing expensive sunglasses.

"He is good at scaring everyone but it won't work any more. I was worried about the Muslim Brotherhood but today is the first day that I stood by a guy with a long beard and felt like he's my brother."

'Rotation of power'

Demonstrators and opposition groups of all ideologies and backgrounds contend that political reforms will guarantee that whatever forces take control of the country they will reflect the people's choice.

"What is most important for Egypt is that we have a good constitution and real democracy with a rotation of power," said student Samir. "That way if we find we don't like the person we elect, we can still get rid of them."

Many expressed anger at remarks made by Iran's spiritual and political leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that the revolt against Western-backed Mr Mubarak represented an "irrepressible defeat" for the US and was part of a regional "Islamic awakening".

"You will find the whole Egyptian spectrum here - men, women, old and young, Muslims and Christians," countered Ashraf Waheed. "We love Western people but we need President Obama and the American government to take the right side. Mubarak must leave."

"He will go, we will not go," was one of the crowd's rhythmic chants through the day. "Mubarak you will not win and tomorrow we will hit you with our shoes," was a more insulting one.

This may have been billed as the long-time president's "departure date" but there was growing frustration at his determination to cling on to power. This week he announced he would wait until the next election to stand down.

'This is enough'

"He is a proud man and, psychologically, it is hard to move him," commented Mohamad Mansour.

Image caption The protests - in cities including Alexandria - have much popular support

Like many present, he expressed resentment of tactics he believed the authorities were using to try to regain control.

"Mubarak acts as a military man and not a politician," he said.

"First, he ordered the police to retreat and let prisoners escape, hoping we would leave the streets to go and protect our homes. Then, he used hired thugs and state security and told them to attack us."

The interior ministry denies taking such steps.

Recent events have opened up many fractures in Egyptian society that will be hard to mend.

It is no wonder that a rising number of residents in Cairo's unusually quiet residential neighbourhoods now desperately want an end to the stand-off between those occupying Tahrir Square and the president and his inner circle.

Most businesses and schools have now been shut for a week.

"I feel this is enough," said Abeer, a middle-aged mother from Shubra. "The president has said he will go in September. This will give us time for transition. We must go back to normal life."

A Christian man, Medhat, had reservations about changing the political system. "I want to raise my voice and tell you that even if Mubarak's government made some mistakes, he has been good for this country," he told me.

"Remember that even if there are half a million people in Tahrir Square we are still a nation of more than 80 million."

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