x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Egyptian couple wed in Tahrir Square amid Cairo protesters

As thousands continue the demonstrations in Cairo's Tahrir Squaue in an attempt to get Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak to step down, one couple among the protesters tie the knot.

CAIRO // Every couple wants their family there when they tie the knot. For Ahmed Zaafan and Ola Abdel Hamid it was the family of protesters who have led demonstrations to topple Egypt's president - so they held their wedding ceremony in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

"It was either we quit Tahrir to go and have our wedding in an isolated hall or hold a ceremony right here among our people protesting in the square. We chose the latter," said Ms Hamid, 22, a graduate in computer science.

Her husband, Mr Zaafan, 29, a psychologist, said: "These protesters are family now. We have lived, laughed and protested together in this square for the past weeks. Ola and I wanted to share our happiness with everyone." Thousands of protesters were around them. Onlookers cheered, ululated and whistled when it was announced over speakers that they had been married by a sheikh on Sunday.

Flowers and sherbet were passed around the crowd after the sheikh concluded the marriage rituals.

The couple said their choice of Tahrir as a wedding venue was a statement of their determination to remain in the square until the people's demands were realised.

"Authorities want the world to think Tahrir is suspended in space and time while the rest of Cairo and Egypt is moving. Well, we are not at a standstill. We want the world to see we can continue to protest and go about our lives," Mr Zaafan said.

Tahrir Square has been the hub of protests and sit-ins since January 25, when Egyptians hit the streets in unprecedented numbers to demand the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak.

Ms Hamid, who said she had no political affiliations but dreamt of a more free Egypt, said: "It was difficult for us to quit the square after we formed such tight bond of love and patriotism with millions of Egyptians."

Hailing the wedding over the square's speakers, an activist said: "These two have chosen to wed in front of millions of Egyptians fighting for freedom. May God bless your marriage."

Meanwhile Mr Mubarak came under fresh pressure today to step down as opponents said concessions offered in talks between his government and its critics were not enough to halt a revolt against his 30-year rule.

Thousands of demonstrators spent Sunday night under blankets and tarpaulins in Tahrir Square, which over the past two weeks has begun to resemble a tented camp.

Protesters sat under the tracks of army tanks deployed around the square, fearful that any movement by the military could be designed to drive out the protesters or abandon them to the mercy of pro-regime thugs.

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Activists barred access to the Mugamma building, the heart of Egypt's bureaucracy, which dominates the square, despite dozens of people seeking to have documents such as passports or birth certificates processed.

In a mark of the tension, protesters seized a man with a petrol can they said was trying to set the building ablaze, fearing they would be blamed, and handed him over to the troops controlling access to the square.

Mr Mubarak, meanwhile, met vice-president Omar Suleiman, parliament speaker Fathi Surur and the head of Egypt's appeals court, Sari Siyam, at his presidential offices, the state news agency MENA said.

On Sunday, Mr Suleiman, Mr Mubarak's key lieutenant and possible successor, tried to appease the revolt by inviting several opposition groups to join him on a panel to pilot democratic reform.

But the demonstrators, in their 14th straight day of protest today, were unimpressed and promised to maintain their vigil.

Opposition parties, including the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, repeated their demand that Mr Mubarak himself must stand down or immediately delegate his powers to Mr Suleiman.

There was scant relief for Mr Mubarak in the Western capitals, where he was once hailed as a close ally and bulwark of Middle East stability.

The US president, Barack Obama, says Egypt has changed forever since its street revolt broke out on January 25 and has called for a "representative government" in Cairo although he stopped short of urging Mr Mubarak to quit immediately. "He's not running for re-election. His term is up this year," Obama said.

An Egyptian government spokesman, Magdi Radi, said the parties had agreed to form a committee of jurists and politicians "to study and propose constitutional amendments and required legislative amendments … by the first week of March."

Negotiators also agreed to open an office for complaints over the treatment of political prisoners amid torture charges, to loosen media curbs, lift emergency rule "depending on the security situation," and reject foreign interference.

But Mr Suleiman refused another key demand of the opposition, saying he would not assume Mr Mubarak's powers and rule in his place during the transition.

Not all of the opposition movements involved in the revolt against Mr Mubarak's rule were present at the talks. The former head of the UN nuclear watchdog, Mohammed ElBaradei, a leading dissident, was not invited, and has criticised the talks.

The Muslim Brotherhood, still officially banned, said it had agreed to take part in the talks because it wanted to determine if the government was serious about reform, but warned that the initial concessions were insufficient.

The Islamist movement's number two leader Mahmud Ezzat, asked whether he believed Mubarak would step down, told AFP: "That hinges on popular pressure, and we support the popular pressure. It must continue."

While Mr Mubarak has said he is "fed up" with leadership, he says he must stay on until September's presidential election in order to ensure stability. Hwever, the demonstrators' frustration is now finding an echo abroad.

Spain's foreign minister said the election should be brought forward. Egypt "could find a way to answer the legitimate aspirations of the citizens if the authorities made a gesture and brought forward to the month of June the elections," Trinidad Jimenez told Spain's El Mundo newspaper. The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton ,said the timing of Mr Mubarak's exit depended on the Egyptian people but warned that an early date could lead to complications if opposition groups are not organised for the vote.

"As I understand the constitution, if the president were to resign, he would be succeeded by the speaker of the house, and presidential elections would have to be held in 60 days," she said.

Mrs Clinton said she had heard a Muslim Brotherhood leader as well as ElBaradei say that "it's going to take time" to organise polls.

But this cuts little ice in Tahrir Square, where the demonstrators have kept up demands for Mr Mubarak's immediate exit and have no faith that the 82-year-old leader is serious about stepping down after three decades in power.