February 4, 2011


[Its grip on power shaken, the government broadened its crackdown on Thursday, arresting journalists and human rights advocates across an edgy city, while offering more concessions in a bid to win support from a population growing frustrated with a devastated economy and scenes of chaos in the streets.]
CAIRO — Despite a wider government crackdown, tens of thousands of Egyptians streamed into Cairo’s central Tahrir Square on Friday, carrying baskets of bread, food and water for those camped out there and apparently anticipating a long siege to press for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.
As the uprising entered its 11th day, with the regime seeking to seize the initiative at one of Egypt’s most decisive moments since the 1952 revolution, the authorities have responded with a startling blend of the oldest tactics of an authoritarian government — stoking fears of foreigners on the streets — and an air of sincere repentance.
Its grip on power shaken, the government broadened its crackdown on Thursday, arresting journalists and human rights advocates across an edgy city, while offering more concessions in a bid to win support from a population growing frustrated with a devastated economy and scenes of chaos in the streets.
After a night of scattered clashes and bursts of gunfire, an uneasy calm prevailed on Friday as antigovernment protesters mustered for what they have called a “Friday of departure” in hopes of maintaining the momentum behind demands that Mr. Mubarak step down after three decades in power. Television images showed protesters packed together beneath the palm trees of Alexandria, Egypt’s second city on the Mediterranean coast, eaving Egyptian flags and demanding Mr. Mubarak’s ouster.
In a highly unusual move, the defense minister, Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, appeared in the square on Friday — the first member of the ruling government elite to do so. As he inspected troops there, protesters cheers him and formed a human chain in order, they said, to prevent any hostile action against him. “We have faith and trust in the Egyptian military,” said one of those in the chain, Amr Makleb, 28.
Hoping to repeat their successful tactic of a week ago, when demonstrators poured from Cairo’s many mosques to press their uprising, protesters said they were planning a similar surge after noon prayers on Friday. But one big difference from one week ago was that, then, the protesters confronted the police at the start of a day of violence and looting. Since then, though, the uniformed police has largely disappeared from the streets and the protesters have clashed with pro-Mubarak adversaries they accuse of being sponsored by the government.
On one approach to Tahrir Square on Friday, two orderly lines of would-be protesters stretched back hundreds of yards on the Kasr al-Nil bridge, their progress slowed by elite paratroops who threw razor wire across the bridge and searched demonstrators as they arrived — apparently a new attempt by the military to assert some control.
The numbers of people arriving, though, underscored the protesters’ response to government efforts to tamp down a revolt that will shape the country’s future.
On Thursday, the authorities said that neither President Mubarak nor his son Gamal, long seen as a contender for power, would run for president. It also offered dialogue with the banned Muslim Brotherhood, gestures almost unthinkable weeks ago.
For its part, the Brotherhood insisted on Friday that it had no ambitions to field presidential candidates if those talks took place. But Mohammed el-Beltagui, a leading member of the organization, told Al Jazeera television that it would only negotiate once Mr. Mubarak left office. “We have said clearly that we have no ambitions to run for the presidency or posts in a coalition government,” Reuters quoted him as saying.
The Brotherhood has assumed an increasingly prominent role in the uprising, but its disavowal of long-term political ambitions seemed to contradict an assertion on Friday from Iran that the country was in the throes of an Islamic revolution similar to the tumult that ended the rule of the Shahin Tehran in 1979.
“The awakening of the Islamic Egyptian people is an Islamic liberation movement and I, in the name of the Iranian government, salute the Egyptian people and the Tunisian people,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, said at Friday prayers in Tehran which were broadcast on television, Reuters reported.
On a larger scale than on previous days, thousands of people in Tahrir Square sank to their knees in Tahrir square at noon as loudspeakers amplified the sound of prayers filling the air. But those in the square reflected a cross-section of society, not just members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The minute the prayers were over, the square erupted in slogans of defiance, urging Mr. Mubarak to go.
Propelling the protesters , many said that their determination was blending with a fear that if they lost, the protesters and their organizers would bear the brunt of a withering crackdown.
“If we can’t bring this to an end, we’re going to all be in the slammer by June,” said Murad Mohsen, a doctor treating the wounded at a makeshift clinic near barricades, where thousands fought off droves of government supporters with rocks and firebombs.
Dr. Mohsen’s comments illustrated the changing dynamic of an uprising that has captivated the Arab world, reverberating through Jordan, Sudan and Yemen, where there were peaceful protests on Thursday. New calls for protests went out in Algeria, Bahrain and Libya.
On Friday, Mohamed ElBaradei, who has been authorized by the protesters to negotiate with the authorities, said no one from government had contacted him, but he was still standing by.
At a news conference at his home in Giza, close to the pyramids, Mr. ElBaradei said Mr. Mubarak’s adversaries had already begun drawing up a constitution and were seeking the creation of a council of two to five members — including a representative from the powerful military — to oversee reform.
But, he said, Mr. Mubarak’s adversaries were prepared to negotiate with the authorities only after he had relinquished power. “No one wants him to be humiliated,” Mr. ElBaradei said. “We would like to see him leave with dignity.” His comment was in sharp contrast to some protesters who have been calling for his execution.
From festive scenes of just days ago, the revolt has become more martial, as exhausted men defend what they describe as the perimeter of a free Egypt around Tahrir Square. Their demands have grown more forceful and the uprising more radical. After pitched clashes of two days that left at least seven dead and hundreds wounded, banners in Tahrir Square declared Mr. Mubarak “a war criminal,” and several in the crowd said that the president should be executed. Major television networks were largely unable to broadcast from the square on Thursday.
The United States joined a chorus of criticism, with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton saying, “We condemn in the strongest terms attacks on peaceful demonstrators, human rights activists, foreigners and diplomats.”
The government’s strategy seems motivated at turning broader opinion in the country against the protests and perhaps wearing down the demonstrators themselves, some of whom seemed exhausted by the clashes. Vice President Omar Suleiman, appointed Saturday to a position that Mr. Mubarak had until then refused to fill, appealed to Egypt’s sense of decency in allowing Mr. Mubarak to serve out his term, and he chronicled the mounting losses that, he said, the uprising had inflicted on a crippled Egyptian economy.
“End your sit-in,” he said. “Your demands have been answered.”
Mr. Mubarak said in an interview with ABC that he was eager to step down but if he did, “Egypt would sink into chaos.”
In interviews and statements, the government has increasingly spread an image that foreigners were inciting the uprising, a refrain echoed in the streets. The suggestions are part of a days-long Egyptian media campaign that has portrayed the protesters as troublemakers and ignored the scope of an uprising with diffuse goals and leadership.
The Committee to Protect Journalists said it had 100 reports of attacks on journalists. Al Jazeera, the influential Arabic channel, said government supporters stormed the Hilton Hotel in Cairo, searching for journalists, and two of its reporters were attacked. A Greek journalist was stabbed with a screwdriver and others were beaten and harassed.
Police also raided the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, a headquarters for many of the international human rights organizations working in Egypt. The human rights workers were told to lie on the floor and the chips were removed from the telephones, someone present in the building said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.
As the day wore on, tension descended across parts of the city, which is still guarded by popular committees that banded together after the police withdrew last Saturday. Government supporters roamed parts of the downtown, itching for a fight, and looters set fire to a shopping mall along the Nile that was already looted and burned a week ago.
The menace was a counterpoint to Tahrir Square, where the literati and well-off demonstrators mixed with the poorest of rough-and-tumble neighborhoods in scenes of camaraderie and determination that have made the square an emblem of the revolt. Protesters flashed V-for-victory signs at dawn, celebrating their success in holding the square and even pushing the barricades forward in clashes that dragged through the night.
For days, the government seemed to stagger at the scale of an uprising that overwhelmed Egypt’s once ubiquitous security forces a week ago. The concessions on Thursday marked its most concerted attempt to address at least some of the longstanding demands in a country that many believe has stagnated under Mr. Mubarak’s rule. The newly appointed prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, apologized for the violence and vowed to investigate who instigated it. Mr. Suleiman followed with a lengthy television interview in which he recognized what he described as “the revolution of the youth.”
Mr. Suleiman sought to project an image of good will, offering dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood, which remains banned, even though it is the country’s most influential opposition group. In a sign of the new landscape, Mr. Suleiman referred to it by name rather than the government’s usual coded language, though he and Mr. Mubarak have both suggested it was behind the revolt. Its followers have played a forceful role in the protests, but its leaders have, so far, tried to remain in the background.
Other concessions came from Egypt’s public prosecutor, who issued a travel ban on former government ministers and an official of the ruling National Democratic Party on suspicion of theft of public money, profiteering and fraud, state television reported. Among the four was the hated former interior minister, Habib el-Adly, who commanded a police force that was widely despised for its corruption and routine use of torture.
David D. Kirkpatrick reported from Cairo, and Alan Cowell from Paris. Kareem Fahim and Mona El-Naggar contributed reporting from Cairo.