Egyptians Protest For Change; Mubarak Names VP
Egyptians Protest For Change; Mubarak Names VP
by NPR STAFF AND WIRES
January 29, 2011
President Hosni Mubarak named a vice president for the first time in his 30 years in power Saturday as tens of thousands of people gathered in the streets of Cairo, largely ignoring a curfew set by the government and calling for the president's ouster.
Mubarak's intelligence chief and close confidant Omar Suleiman will be second in charge.
In the largest anti-government protests in Egypt in decades, protesters rejected the president's promises of reform and a new government — chanting "fraudulent" and "illegitimate," along with other slogans. The protesters made it abundantly clear that they aren't satisfied with pronouncements Mubarak has made. His Cabinet has resigned on his orders, but there is no sign that he will join them.
"They are done with this president," NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson said from Cairo. "They want a new party. They want a new president. They want democracy and they will settle for no less."
Before naming Suleiman in a clear step toward setting up a successor in the midst of protests, Mubarak had been widely seen as grooming his son Gamal to succeed him — possibly even as soon as in presidential elections planned for later this year. However, there was significant public opposition to the hereditary succession.
Suleiman, 74, has been in charge of some of Egypt's most sensitive foreign policy issues, including the Palestinian-Israeli peace process and inter-Palestinian divisions.
Mubarak also named his new Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, the outgoing civil aviation minister and fellow former air force officer.
The death toll since the protests began Tuesday rose to 48, according to medical and security officials and witnesses at the demonstration. Of those, 41 have been killed since Friday. Some 2,000 injuries have been reported.
Dozens of military armored personnel carriers, tanks and soldiers on foot deployed around a number of key government buildings in the capital, including state television and the Foreign Ministry after thousands of protesters besieged the two offices in Friday's riots. The military was protecting important tourist and archaeological sites such as the Egyptian Museum, home to some of the country's most treasured antiquities, as well as the Cabinet building. The pyramids on the outskirts of Cairo were closed to tourists.
Reports said police opened fire and killed at least three protesters as they tried to storm the Interior Ministry building.
But protesters have been receptive to the army, cheering soldiers and welcoming them "like heroes," said NPR's Nelson. Many are standing on top of tanks with soldiers, as if they're on the same side though the army is still being deployed by Mubarak.
In one of the more dramatic scenes Friday, protesters burned down the ruling party's headquarters complex along the Nile.
President Mubarak asked for the resignations of his Cabinet members late Friday and promised to address protesters' demands, but he made clear that he intends to stay in power.
That didn't satisfy those still protesting on the streets of Cairo and in other cities.
"What we want is for Mubarak to leave, not just his government,'' Mohammed Mahmoud, a demonstrator in Cairo's main Tahrir Square said Saturday. "We will not stop protesting until he goes.''
Omar Mohamad, who teaches engineering at Cairo University, also joined the throngs in the streets Friday.
"All people were out," he told NPR. "We see little girls, we see old men, we see illiterate people, we see … educated people. Rich, poor — everybody was there, so it [gives] me the feeling that for the first time we're about to smell the breath of freedom."
Mohamad says Egyptians are ready for real change.
"Tomorrow, the Egyptian people will not be the same as the Egyptian people of yesterday," he says. "They are different people, so I think it's about time to start thinking of how to try to gain back our dignity, to gain back our pride, gain back our life."
As the protests entered their fifth straight day, the military extended a night curfew imposed Friday in the three major cities where the worst violence has been seen: Cairo, Alexandria and Suez. State television reported the curfew would now begin at 4 p.m. and last until 8 a.m., longer than the 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. ban Friday night that appeared to not have been enforced.
Internet appeared blocked for a second day to hamper protesters who use social networking sites to organize. After cell phone service was cut for a day Friday, two of the country's major providers were up and running Saturday.
After years of simmering discontent in this nation where protests are generally limited, Egyptians were emboldened to take to the streets by the uprising in Tunisia, another North African Arab nation.
But a police crackdown drew harsh criticism from the Obama administration and even a threat Friday to reduce a $1.5 billion foreign aid program if Washington's most important Arab ally escalates the use of force.
Stepping up the pressure, President Barack Obama told a news conference he called Mubarak immediately after Mubarak's TV address and urged him to take "concrete steps'' to expand rights and refrain from violence against protesters.
"The United States will continue to stand up for the rights of the Egyptian people and work with their government in pursuit of a future that is more just, more free and more hopeful,'' Obama said.
Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, a Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, speaking on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, said Saturday he believes Mubarak must address the issues that matter to the people of Egypt.
"Dismissing the government doesn't speak to some of those challenges,'' he said. "I think he's got to speak more to the real issues that people feel."
Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.