x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

50,000 defy Cairo curfew as Mubarak names first ever deputy

Egyptian army orders protesters to stay off the streets but troops in tanks stand by and watch as the demonstrations continue.

Protesters clash with riot police in Cairo yesterday as thousands of anti-regime demonstrators continue to pour onto Cairo's streets.
Protesters clash with riot police in Cairo yesterday as thousands of anti-regime demonstrators continue to pour onto Cairo's streets.

CAIRO // The Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, named his military intelligence chief vice president yesterday as he tried to placate tens of thousands of protesters who took to the streets for a fifth day demanding an end to his 30 years in power.

The Egyptian army, the only force visible on the capital's streets yesterday, failed to enforce a 4pm curfew in most of the city, but soldiers held their ground at key government buildings and thoroughfares.

Three demonstrators who tried to force their way into the Central Bank and Ministry of Interior were shot dead. Eight prisoners were also killed and 123 injured at Abu Zaabal prison, northeast of Cairo, when they attempted a mass breakout.

Facing another day of protests and pressure to resign, Mr Mubarak announced that Omar Suleiman, a close confidant, would be his first-ever vice president. He also appointed Ahmad Shafiq, like himself a former commander of the air force, his new prime minister after dismissing his entire cabinet on Friday.

Mr Suleiman, 74, has long been central in key policy areas, including the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, an issue vital to Egypt's relationship with key aid donor the United States. But many protesters seemed unhappy with the decision, apparently aimed at ensuring power stays in the hands of military and security institutions.

"He is just like Mubarak, there is no change," a protester said outside the Interior Ministry, where thousands were protesting, moments after the appointment.

"The people are not satisfied," said Hossam Omar, 26, a civil servant. Mr Mubabrak "must leave", he said. "This is a revolution for all Egyptians."

Despite a warning by a defence ministry spokesman that the army would act "firmly" against people violating the curfew, troops took no action as an estimated 50,000 protesters stayed on the streets after 4pm. Some were even seen jubilantly climbing on top of army tanks and armoured personnel carriers.

In Tahrir Square in the centre of the city, protesters hoisted an army officer waving an Egyptian flag on their shoulders and chanted "The people and the army are one hand together."

Earlier yesterday young Egyptians formed a human chain to protect the Cairo Museum, which is in the square and which houses the famous Tutankhamun mask and other priceless antiquities.

The scenes contrasted with Friday, when police fired tear gas and rubber bullets and protesters hurled stones in running battles. Government buildings, including the ruling party headquarters, were set alight by demonstrators.

The military appeared to be going to great lengths to calm the capital without antagonising demonstrators. The police are generally feared as an instrument of repression but the army is seen as a national institution.

Samir El Nimaki, director of the Health Minister's office, had said that at least 40 people had been killed and 1,100 injured in the clashes between protesters and security forces on Friday and Saturday, but that was before the attempted prison break.

Of the 40 killed, 27 died in Cairo, he said. Some 744 of the injured have been treated and released, while 356 are still in hospital, he said.

Elsewhere, police used tear gas and live ammunition against demonstrators in Alexandria yesterday. Protests continued in the port city after curfew. Clashes also erupted in the key port city of Ismailiya, northeast of the capital, where thousands of workers fought running battles with police.

As Mr Mubarak stood his ground, an influential cleric, Yusuf al Qaradawi, called on him to quit, telling Al Jazeera television he should "leave Egypt" as the "only solution to the problem".

"Leave, Mubarak. Have pity on the people and get lost before the destruction spreads in Egypt," said Mr Qaradawi, an Egyptian-born theologian and president of the International Union of Muslim Scholars.

The banned Muslim Brotherhood, the most well-organised opposition group in the country, called for a peaceful transfer of power through a transitional cabinet.

However, the steel magnate Ahmed Ezz, widely seen as a linchpin of a corrupt regime, resigned from the ruling National Democratic Party, where he was a senior member.

Meanwhile, Egypt's mobile telephone service was restored after being cut by the government on Friday, but internet service remained disrupted yesterday.

State television announced that all banks were to be closed immediately and the stock market will be closed today, the start of the work week.

The unrest, which follows the overthrow of the Tunisian strongman Zine al Abidine Ben Ali two weeks ago in a popular uprising, has sent shockwaves through the Middle East.

The Egyptian protesters, many of them young urban poor or students, are enraged over endemic poverty, corruption and unemployment as well as the lack of democracy in the most populous Arab nation.

Mr Mubarak, who has held power since the 1981 assassination of Anwar Sadat by Islamist soldiers. promised in a televised speech on Friday to address Egyptians' grievances.

The uprising, which so far has no clear leader or organisation, also poses a dilemma for the United States.

Mr Mubarak, 82, has been a close ally of Washington and a beneficiary of US aid for decades, justifying his autocratic rule in part by citing a danger of Islamist militancy. Egypt plays a key role in Middle East peacemaking and was the first Arab nation to sign a peace treaty with Israel.

The US president Barack Obama called on the Egyptian authorities not to use violence against the political protests, driving home his message in a 30-minute phone conversation with Mr Mubarak.

He urged Mr Mubarak to take "concrete" steps towards political reforms, and said he must turn "a moment of volatility" into "a moment of promise".

Later yesterday the State Department spokesman, Philip Crowley, repeated concerns about the unrest.

"With protesters still on the streets of Egypt, we remain concerned about the potential for violence and again urge restraint on all sides," he wrote on Twitter.


* with additional reporting from Reuters, Agence France-Presse and Associated Press