CAIRO - Chants urging President Hosni Mubarak to leave are
reverberating across Cairo's Tahrir Square, Egypt's protest epicentre,
where hundreds of thousands have gathered for what they said was the
"Day of Departure".
As the country entered its eleventh day of unrest, mass demonstrations commenced after Friday prayers.
Thousands gathered in the city of Alexandria, holding up placards and
chanting "He must go!" an Al Jazeera correspondent there reported.
Three thousand people also joined demonstrations in Giza.
"The feel here is that today is the final day for Mubarak, it's time
for him to go," Gigi Ibrahim, a political activist told Al Jazeera from
"This whole process has been about who is more determined and who is
not willing to give up. And everyday [the protesters] get more and more
determined," Ibrahim said.
Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Egypt's defence minister, also visited the
square earlier on Friday. He talked with the protesters and other
Earlier, Ahmed Shafiq, Egypt's new prime minister, said the interior
minister should not obstruct Friday's peaceful marches. And Mubarak, on
his part said he wanted to leave office, but feared there will be chaos
if he did.
Speaking to America's ABC television he said, "I am fed up. After 62 years in public service, I have had enough. I want to go."
But he added: "If I resign today, there will be chaos."
Mubarak's government has struggled to regain control of a nation
angry about poverty, recession and political repression, inviting the
Muslim Brotherhood - Egypt's most organised opposition movement - to
talks and apologising for Wednesday's bloodshed in Cairo.
In a bid to calm the situation, Omar Suleiman, the vice-president,
said on Thursday that the banned Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest
opposition political movement, and others had been invited to meet the
new government as part of a national dialogue.
An offer to talk to the banned but tolerated group would have been
unthinkable before protests erupted on January 25, indicating the gains
made by the pro-democracy movement since then.
But sensing victory, they have refused talks until Mubarak goes.
Opposition actors including Mohamed ElBaradei, the former UN nuclear
watchdog head, and the Muslim Brotherhood said again that Mubarak, who
wants to stay on until elections scheduled for September, must go before
they would negotiate with the government.
"We demand that this regime is overthrown, and we demand the
formation of a national unity government for all the factions," the
Muslim Brotherhood said in a statement broadcast by Al Jazeera.
The government's overture came after Shafiq, the prime minister,
apologised for Wednesday's violence and the breakdown in law and order.
Shafiq also said he did not know who was responsible for the bloodshed, blamed by protesters on undercover police.
In an important move, Mohammed Al-Beltagi, a leading member of Muslim
Brotherhood, told Al Jazeera on Friday that his organisation has no
ambitions to run for the presidency.
The developments come as the New York Times reports,
quoting US officials and Arab diplomats, that the US administration is
discussing with Egyptian officials a proposal for Mubarak to resign
immediately and hand over power to a transitional government headed by
Omar Suleiman, the newly appointed vice-president.
This report, though unconfirmed by the White House, comes after
Mubarak's statements on Tuesday this week where he agreed to cease
power, but only in September at the end of his current term.
Mohamed Talaat El-Sadat, brother of the late Egyptian president Anwar
El-Sadaat has backed Suleiman for the top post. He told Al Jazeera on
Friday that he supported the youth revolution but did not want Egypt to
go to civil war.
"We don't want chaos and call for meeting demands of demonstrators
who should stay at Tahrir Square," he said, adding "I expect Mubarak
will voluntarily and openhandedly step down and transfer power to Omar
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At least 13 people have died and scores were injured, most over the
last two days when Mubarak loyalists launched a counter-revolution on
The army took little action while the fighting raged in Tahrir Square
over the past two days. However, there was a more visible military
presence on Thursday; but this did not prevent new clashes.
The interior ministry has denied it ordered its agents or officers to attack prior pro-democracy demonstrations.
While vice president Suleiman told ABC Television that the government
would not forcefully remove protesters. "We will ask them to go home,
but we will not push them to go home," he said.
Ahead of Friday's mass protests, eyewitnesses told Al Jazeera that
thugs, with the assistance of security vehicles, were readying to attack
Tahrir Square. They said protesters were preparing to confront them.
Protesters also reported finding Molotov cocktails on security personnel dressed in civilian clothes.
An Al Jazeera correspondent, who spent Thursday night in Tahrir
Square, said "the numbers did not die down one bit" through the night.
He added that there was an atmosphere of defiance among all the
protesters he had spoken to.
The army's role in shaping events is crucial. Only on Thursday did
soldiers set up a clear buffer zone around the square to separate
factions after having stood by. That did not prevent new clashes as
opposing groups pelted each other with rocks.
Though less numerous than earlier in the week, there were
demonstrations on Thursday in Suez and Ismailia, industrial cities where
inflation and unemployment have kindled the sort of dissent that hit
Tunisia and which some believe could ripple in a domino effect across
other Arab police states.