Monday, February 7, 2011
Thousands of protesters remained camped in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Monday, showing no signs of easing pressure on President Hosni Mubarak's regime and shrugging off the latest round of government concessions.
Egypt's state-run news agency said Mubarak had ordered parliament and its highest appellate court to re-examine lower-court rulings disqualifying hundreds of ruling party lawmakers for campaign and ballot irregularities — infractions that election officials had ignored. Later, the country's newly appointed finance minister said government employees would receive a 15 percent salary raise to take effect in April.
The government also met with opposition groups Sunday and promised to lift restrictions on the media and to release detained protesters.
But the compromises have failed to satisfy anti-government protesters, who have insisted since demonstrations began Jan. 25 that nothing short of seeing the backs of Mubarak and his entire cabinet would be acceptable.
In Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the protest movement, demonstrators had set up a virtual tent camp band rought in food and entertainment, such as strolling musicians and poetry recitals. The camp was ringed by army soldiers, tanks and armored personnel carriers, but troops showed no signs of making any move against the occupiers.
"The army has really cut off the square from the rest of the city," NPR's Corey Flintoff reported from Cairo.
But in the rest of the city, he added, "people do seem to be getting back to normal."
Banks were open for limited hours along with some shops. The Egyptian stock exchange said it would resume trading on Sunday for the first time since Jan. 27.
Although there was no sign of violence in Tahrir Square on Monday after deadly clashes last week, the government said four masked gunmen set off a bomb on Saturday at a gas terminal in Egypt's northern Sinai Peninsula.
The chief investigator into the explosion, first attributed to a gas leak, said in a report Monday that the terminal's guards testified that the men stormed the terminal in two cars, briefly restrained the guards and then set off the explosives by remote control.
As the protests continue, Egypt's economy was likely to suffer, according to Ahmed Elsayed Elnaggar, an economist at the Al-Ahram Foundation in Cairo.
"Especially in the tourist sector," he said. "Income from this sector is about $13 billion to $15 billion annually."
Elnaggar, a long-time critic of the government's economic policies, said there is another, potentially more serious, problem. He says people who gained illicit profits under the Mubarak government are now trying to get their money out of the country.
"A lot of corrupt businessmen and corrupt politicians [are] trying to transfer their money from Egyptian pounds to dollars, to Euro to every currency to transfer it abroad. So, there is a [lot of] … pressure on the Egyptian pound at this moment," he said.
In an interview with NPR on Monday, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said there was "a transition process" that was gradually taking place in Egypt.
Mubarak, he said, had "made that psychological break" with the notion that he would continue to rule Egypt.
"He will leave office in September; he's made it clear his son will not run again," Crowley said. "What role he plays between here and there, you know, is his to make along with his senior advisers."
The outlawed Muslim Brotherhood was among the groups represented at Sunday's meeting with Vice President Omar Suleiman.
Suleiman said that when security permits, the government would lift nearly 30-year-old
emergency laws giving police far-reaching powers for detention and suppression of civil and human rights; the government will no longer hamper freedom of press or interfere with text messaging or the Internet; a committee of judiciary and political figures will study reform the constitution to allow more candidates to run for president and impose term limits on the president; the government will make no recriminations against those participating in the anti-government protests.
The Brotherhood, an avowedly Islamist group that has long been the subject of an official government crackdown, issued a statement after the meeting, saying that it "did not advance our demands."
Notably absent from Sunday's gathering were the disparate youth movements that sparked the revolt using tech-savvy social media to challenge Mubarak's rule.
Youth leader Ahmed Mahar said the negotiations do not represent the protest movement that pushed for the mass demonstrations two weeks ago.
"Any young people now talking with Omar Suleiman or anyone else in the government does not represent the youth groups that called for the January 25th revolt," he said.
"We all are united on this," he said, "no negotiations before Mubarak's departure."
Lawyer Ziad Al ALamy, 30, said protests would continue but that they might move out of the city center.
"We'll change the tactics; we'll change the places that we'll demonstrate on. We will change our movement, we'll change all of these things," he told NPR.
NPR's Corey Flintoff and Eric Westervelt reported from Cairo for this story, which contains material from The Associated Press.