Egypt Protests Linger but Normal Life Begins to Return in Cairo

Anti-government protesters continue to occupy Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Monday following two weeks of demonstrations and talks Sunday between government officials and opposition groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood.

“There are people now living in tents, under tarps, food being sold,” said CBC’s David Common from Cairo. “Those Protesters are still very exhilarated. The moment you walk into the square, people are cheering you on. Music is being played. There’s a real sense of trying to get the energy up and trying to keep people motivated.” One idled driver, Muhammad Adel, said, “I am hopeful I can make some money here.” (New York Times)

Despite the negotiations, many protesters are still determined to remain in the square until President Hosni Mubarak steps down. Mubarak, who has ruled for nearly 30 years, has said he will not run in the September presidential election, but has refused to resign immediately. “So we’re at this political stalemate,” Common said. (CBC)

Soldiers and tanks remain in the streets of Cairo, but some banks and stores, closed following the days of political upheaval, have reopened in parts of the city. Traffic also reappeared along roads.

On Sunday, a variety of officials took part in negotiations. They included members of secular opposition parties, independent legal experts, a representative of opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei and business tycoon Naguib Sawiris, according to Reuters. The talks, convened by Egyptian Vice-President Omar Suleiman, marked the first time the Brotherhood has held direct negotiations with the government. The group is officially banned in Egypt.

Mr. ElBaradei, who has been delegated as a negotiator for the protest movement, rejected Mr. Suleiman’s arguments in his own Sunday talk show appearance. “We need to abolish the present Constitution,” Mr. ElBaradei said in an interview on CNN. “We need to dissolve the current Parliament. These are all elements of the dictatorship regime, and we should not be – I don’t think we will go to democracy through the dictatorial Constitution.”

Adbel Monem Aboul Fotouh, a senior member of the Brotherhood, told Al Arabiya television network that the government statement represented “good intentions, but does not include any solid changes.” (CBC) Fotouh said certain articles in the constitution needed to be changed immediately, specifically one covering presidential elections, which put Mubarak’s ruling party in a position to choose the next president. Another amendment would restrict the president from running for unlimited presidential terms.

Zyad Elelaiwy, 32, a lawyer who is one of the online organizers and a member of the umbrella group founded by Mohammed ElBaradei, the Nobel laureate, acknowledged a generational divide in the movement. Some older leaders – especially from the recognized parties – were tempted to negotiate with Mr. Suleiman, he said, but the young organizers determined to hold out for sweeping change. “They are more close to negotiating, but they don’t have access to the street,” Mr. Elelaiwy said. “The people know us. They don’t know them.” (New York Times)

Suleiman offered concessions including granting press freedom and rolling back police powers. But protesters in the square said they remained unsatisfied. “Our main objective is for Mubarak to step down,” said student Mohammed Eid. “We don’t accept any other concessions.” (CBC)

Brushing aside the secular character of the youth revolt shaking Egypt and the Arab world, Mr. Suleiman suggested conspiratorially that unspecified “other people” and “an Islamic current” were in fact pushing the young people forward. “It’s not their idea,” he said. “It comes from abroad.” (New York Times) And when asked about progress toward democracy, he asserted that Egypt was not ready, and would not be until “the people here will have the culture of democracy.” (New York Times)

U.S. President Barack Obama said Monday that Egypt is moving toward a way out of the political crisis.“Obviously, Egypt has to negotiate a path, and I think they’re making progress,” he said. (CBC) Obama did not elaborate in response to a reporter’s question on the talks taking place in Egypt.

In an interview with National Public Radio on Sunday, Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton said that she and Vice President Joe Biden had held many conversations with Mr. Suleiman about steps toward democracy. “We hear that they are committed to this,” she said, “and when we press on concrete steps and timelines, we are given assurance that that will happen.” (New York Times) To explain the apparent American shift from urgent demands for change to endorsing plans for Mr. Mubarak to remain in place during a transition, Mrs. Clinton alluded to “a debate within Egypt itself, and not just in the government, but among the people of Egypt” over how to manage the timing of the transition, since the existing Egyptian Constitution would set an unrealistic deadline of two months for an election if Mr. Mubarak stepped down. That “doesn’t give anybody enough time,” she said. She has not addressed the Egyptian opposition’s suggestion for how to solve that problem: suspension of the Constitution for up to a year until a transitional unity government can organize a free election. (New York Times)

The Egyptian government pledged Monday to investigate official corruption and election fraud. Judicial officials promised to start questioning three former ministers and a senior ruling party official on corruption charges on Tuesday. Egypt’s state-run news agency reported that Mubarak ordered the country’s parliament and its highest appellate court to re-examine lower-court rulings disqualifying hundreds of ruling party lawmakers for campaign and ballot irregularities that were ignored by electoral offices.

Financial Minister Samir Radwan allocated about $960 million to cover the increases for six million employees. The Egyptian government auctioned off $2.2 billion in short-term debt, having canceled a previous auction last week. It is seeking to revive an economy said to be losing at least $310 million a day. However, the Cairo stock exchange, which was originally supposed to re-open on Monday, will now not resume trading until Sunday February 13. It has been closed since January 27, when $12 billion was wiped off shares over two days.

Schools remain closed, and a curfew is still in force in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez. However, the hours of curfew which has been widely flouted – have been relaxed. It now runs from 2000 to 0600 local time.

Meanwhile, Google marketing executive and pro-democracy activist Wael Ghonim, missing since January 28, has been freed, Google said. “Huge relief – Wael Ghonim has been released. Huge love to him and his family,” Google said on the micro-blogging site Twitter. It was not immediately clear who or what organization had been holding him.

In other news, Germany has announced it will not export any more arms to Egypt until further notice. The German economy ministry says it is acting over concerns about Egypt’s human rights record. Last year, Germany sold $30 million worth of arms to Egypt. Export permits already granted are to be re-investigated, the ministry said in a statement.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned that the protests in Egypt and the Arab world could fuel illegal immigration to Europe. “Instability in the region as such may also, in the longer-term perspective, have a negative impact on the economies, which might lead to illegal immigration in Europe,” Mr. Rasmussen told a news briefing in Brussels. However, the situation did not pose a direct threat to NATO, he added. (BBC)

In a separate development, one Egyptian security officer was injured when four rocket-propelled grenades were fired at security forces barracks in Rafah on the Gaza Strip border, officials said. It was not immediately clear who was behind Monday morning’s attack, which Egyptian state television blamed on “extremist groups aiming to undermine security.” (BBC)


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