x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Mubarak:'If I resign there will be chaos'

New PM Ahmed Shafiq urges demonstrators to go home, but no signs of protesters dispersing, despite government concessions including promise that Mubarak's son will not seek presidency.

Opposition supporters shelter behind a barricade during clashes with pro-Mubarak demonstrators in Tahrir Square in Cairo yesterday.
Opposition supporters shelter behind a barricade during clashes with pro-Mubarak demonstrators in Tahrir Square in Cairo yesterday.

CAIRO // The Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, said last night in an interview with America's ABC television that he wants to leave office, but fears there will be chaos if he resigns now.

The beleaguered Egyptian leader said he was "fed-up with being president and would like to leave office now, but cannot … for fear that the country would sink into chaos," ABC's Christiane Amanpour said, after interviewing Mr Mubarak.

Mubarak, who has said he will not stand in upcoming elections, has come under increasing pressure from the United States and the West to step down amid 10 days of violent protests against his 30-year rule.

But he said he had told the US president, Barack Obama, "you don't understand the Egyptian culture and what would happen if I step down now."

Mr Mubarak also said his government was not responsible for the violence in Cairo's Tahrir Square and blamed the opposition Muslim Brotherhood.

Pitched battles on Wednesday between Mubarak supporters and regime opponents left at least five people dead and 836 injured.

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"I was very unhappy about yesterday. I do not want to see Egyptians fighting each other," Mr Mubarak was quoted as saying in an early snippet of the 20-minute interview with Ms Amanpour.

"He told me that he is troubled by the violence we have seen in Tahrir Square over the last few days but that his government is not responsible for it," Ms Amanpour said in her account of the interview.

"Instead, he blamed the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned political party here in Egypt," she said.

The interview took place in the heavily-guarded presidential palace in Cairo, with Mubarak's son Gamal seated at his side, ABC said.

"I never intended to run again. I never intended Gamal to be president after me," Mubarak reportedly said.

He told Ms Amanpour that he had felt relief after announcing in an address to the nation on Friday that he would not run again for the presidency.

"I don't care what people say about me. Right now I care about my country, I care about Egypt," he added.

Asked by Ms Amanpour how he was feeling, the veteran leader replied: "I am feeling strong. I would never run away. I will die on Egyptian soil."

Meanwhile Egypt's new prime minister apologised yesterday for the deadly violence that has raged in the heart of the capital and urged anti-government demonstrators to go home, saying there was nothing more for them to achieve.

"Egyptian hearts are bleeding," said Ahmed Shafiq, who promised an inquiry into the overnight clashes between supporters and opponents of President Mubarak that left at least six people dead and hundreds of others wounded.

In a further bid to appease the president's opponents, the vice president Omar Suleiman promised that Mr Mubarak's son, Gamal, would not seek to succeed his father in presidential elections in September. Also, the prosecutor general banned travel and froze the bank accounts of three former ministers, including two unpopular millionaire businessmen accused of wielding excessive influence in the previous government.

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UNREST IN EGYPT: THE FULL STORY

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Despite the government's concessions, there were few signs last night that the protesters would disperse, as demonstrations demanding that Mr Mubarak step down immediately from office entered their tenth day.

In Baghdad, the UAE Foreign Minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, voiced support for the people of Egypt and their leaders, and criticised attempts by outsiders to exploit the turmoil there with what he called an "external agenda".

"We as nations need development, reform and improved systems that interact with the people. But the exploitation of the events in Egypt by some parties is disgusting, shameful and unfortunate," said Sheikh Abdullah. The foreign minister was in the Iraqi capital for two days of talks with senior Iraqi officials.

In Egypt, the focus of the struggle was Tahrir Square, in the heart of the capital, the site of the clashes that broke out late on Wednesday and early yesterday after forces loyal to Mr Mubarak - some astride horses and camels - stormed the perimeter of the square, hurling stones and Molotov cocktails.

The square was transformed into a battleground yesterday, with protesters occupying the centre of the square and forces loyal to Mr Mubarak surrounding it and preventing protest sympathisers from crossing bridges spanning the Nile to reach it. Linking arms, the protesters pushed back and then barricaded themselves behind sheets of corrugated metal to fend off counter-attacks.

Troops in armoured vehicles stood by, while other soldiers occasionally shot their weapons into the air in an attempt to scare the two sides into separating.

The government defended the army's hands-off posture. Any intervention by soldiers could have been interpreted as taking sides, said the cabinet spokesman Magdy Rady. "If they [the soldiers] interfere on one side, that will defeat their purpose. It would complicate matters more than helping it," Mr Rady said.

For a second day, foreign journalists were singled out for attack by pro-government gangs of young men and forcibly detained by uniformed soldiers. Two reporters for this newspaper were attacked by mobs and beaten.

The United States, among others, said the Egyptian government must ensure the rights of its citizens to peacefully protest and condemned what it called a "concerted campaign to intimidate" international journalists covering the turmoil.

To many of Mr Mubarak's backers, journalists appear to represent the unnamed internal and external forces, and shadowy conspiracies, that he has blamed for the largest political protests in modern Egyptian history.

Although the police and security forces in the past have recruited unemployed and underemployed from Cairo's poor neighbourhoods to intimidate and rough up anti-Mubarak demonstrators, the government yesterday denied any role in orchestrating the previous day's assaults and hiring provocateurs. It said it was seeking to return peace to the capital's streets, not sow confrontation.

"To accuse the government of mobilising this is a real fiction. That would defeat our object of restoring the calm," Mr Rady said. "We were surprised with all these actions."

A longtime Egyptian government employee was not. "We've seen this many times before in Egypt," said Mahmoud, who declined to give his last name out of fear for his family's safety.

"The people with camels and riding horses - this sort of thing happened many times before because the government is exploiting the poor to attack the people in Tahrir. They are using these people to terrify citizens, paying them for it," he said.

Some analysts said that Mr Mubarak's regime was finally starting to unleash the full extent of its forces to reclaim control of central Cairo and expel the protesters. Shadi Hamid, an expert on Egyptian politics at the Brookings Doha Center, said: "I think we misunderstood the quiet of the Mubarak regime for confusion, but he was quiet because he was building support within the security forces. I think we're seeing a very clever regime response."

More than Mr Mubarak's powerful security forces imperilled the anti-Mubarak protests yesterday. In the wake of the president's pledge late on Tuesday not to seek another term in office, and the virtual paralysis of the country's economy, some demonstrators said they saw no point in continuing the protests.

"Enough! It's time to stop," said Osama Mansour, a 23-year-old baker who decided yesterday to stop protesting at Tahrir Square. "We need stability. I haven't bought food in days. I have no money, and my work has been closed for days."

"Mubarak will leave in September!" said Bassem Boulis, 30. "Stop the fighting. What has happened here is a disaster for us!"

With many here expecting Mr Mubarak and the government's security forces to fiercely reassert their control, there was a note of fear in the voices of some Cairenes yesterday.

"The police and secret police are everywhere," said Mahmoud Lounis, 24, an employee at the Valentino men's clothing store in Cairo's Zemelek neighbourhood.

When a reporter began speaking to a 40-year-old employee of the German airline Lufthansa, a uniformed policeman and a man clad in jeans and sweater rushed in to interpret.

"This man believes Mr Mubarak should stay president forever," interrupted the policeman.

"Yes, I agree," the man nodded.

hnaylor@thenational.ae

cstanton@thenational.ae

With agencies