Egyptians Defy Crackdown with New Mass Protests

By Anthony Shadid

Despite a wider government crackdown, tens of thousands of Egyptians streamed into Cairo’s central Tahrir Square on Friday, carrying baskets of bread, food and water for those camped out there and apparently anticipating a long siege to press for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

As the uprising entered its 11th day, with the regime seeking to seize the initiative at one of Egypt’s most decisive moments since the 1952 revolution, the authorities have responded with a startling blend of the oldest tactics of an authoritarian government — stoking fears of foreigners on the streets — and an air of sincere repentance.

Its grip on power shaken, the government broadened its crackdown on Thursday, arresting journalists and human rights advocates across an edgy city, while offering more concessions in a bid to win support from a population growing frustrated with a devastated economy and scenes of chaos in the streets.

After a night of scattered clashes and bursts of gunfire, an uneasy calm prevailed on Friday as antigovernment protesters mustered for what they have called a “Friday of departure” in hopes of maintaining the momentum behind demands that Mr. Mubarak step down after three decades in power. Television images showed protesters packed together beneath the palm trees of Alexandria, Egypt’s second city on the Mediterranean coast, eaving Egyptian flags and demanding Mr. Mubarak’s ouster.

In a highly unusual move, the defense minister, Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, appeared in the square on Friday — the first member of the ruling government elite to do so. As he inspected troops there, protesters cheers him and formed a human chain in order, they said, to prevent any hostile action against him. “We have faith and trust in the Egyptian military,” said one of those in the chain, Amr Makleb, 28.

Hoping to repeat their successful tactic of a week ago, when demonstrators poured from Cairo’s many mosques to press their uprising, protesters said they were planning a similar surge after noon prayers on Friday. But one big difference from one week ago was that, then, the protesters confronted the police at the start of a day of violence and looting. Since then, though, the uniformed police has largely disappeared from the streets and the protesters have clashed with pro-Mubarak adversaries they accuse of being sponsored by the government. Read more…

As published in www.nytimes.com on February 4, 2011.


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