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Middle East
Mass protests continue in Egypt
Pro-democracy supporters hold fresh rallies in Cairo, just hours after the release of a detained Google executive.
Last Modified: 08 Feb 2011 11:45 GMT
Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros reports on the camaraderie and community inside Tahrir Square in central Cairo

Protesters in the Egyptian capital are holding mass demonstrations, with a new wave of optimism reaching the pro-democracy camp following the release of the detained cyber activist, Wael Ghonim.

As demonstrations seeking an immediate end to Hosni Mubarak's rule enter their 15th day, protesters - set up in makeshift tents in central Cairo's Tahrir [Liberation] Square - are refusing to leave until their demands are met.

In a bid to counter the political challenge, the government offered on Monday a pay rise to public-sector workers, but the pro-democracy camp feels the government has conceded little ground in trying to end the current crisis.

"[The pay rise] doesn't mean anything," Sherif Zein, a protester at Tahrir Square told Al Jazeera on Tuesday. "Maybe it will be a short-term release for the workers ... but most of the people will realise what this is, it's just a tablet of asprin, but it's nothing meaningful."

Zein said protesters had called for mass demonstrations and he believed the crowds of Egyptians would not let them down.

Mubarak's message has thus far clearly stated that he has no plans to leave office until his term is up in September.

However, Omar Suleiman, the country's newly appointed vice-president, announced on Tuesday that Mubarak would set up a committee that would carry out constitutional and legislative amendments to enable a shift of power.

Amid this ongoing contest of wills between the government and protesters, Ghonim's release on Monday is "highly significant" in the sense that it "could certainly push big numbers into this protest later on", an Al Jazeera correspondent in Cairo said.

Suleiman Speech
Following are the main points of announcement
  Mubarak will form a committee to review constitutional amendments.
  Mubarak will form another committee to follow up govt measures to solve the crisis, including talks with opposition.
  Third committee will investigate violent acts and attacks on protesters.
 

Mubarak promised not to arrest or charge any one of those who took part in the protests.

"Protesters say [Ghonim] is potentially some sort of figurehead for them ... they have been looking for a leader."

Ghonim, a senior executive of the US internet search company Google, may be a candidate for such a position, despite comments he made on Monday saying he did not want to be seen as a hero.

Ghonim, who was responsible for setting up the Facebook page that mobilised the start of the protests, was arrested by government authorities on January 28.

Beyond Tahrir Square, life has been slowly getting back to normal in other parts of Cairo. Some shops and banks were open, and our correspondent said on Monday thattraffic on the streets was increasing.

However,  the country's tourism sector is still suffering, with the area around the pyramids remaining closed.

"There's a lot of popular public sentiments in Cairo and wider Egypt regarding what those protesters are trying to achieve but at the same time, people are trying to get back to live as normal lives as possible," our correspondent said.

Another correspondent, also in Cairo, said: "There are divisions. On one side, people do agree with the messages coming out of Tahrir Square, but on the other, Egypt is a country where about 40 per cent of the population lives on daily wages."

Tanks continue to guard government buildings, embassies and other important institutions in the capital.

Funeral procession

Activists in Tahrir Square held a symbolic funeral procession on Monday for a journalist killed by a sniper during the unrest.

The same day, about 2,000 pro-democracy protesters also marched in the port city of Alexandria, Al Jazeera's correspondent there reported.

The UN says at least 300 people have been killed in the violence since the demonstrations began, with Human Rights Watch, the international rights group, putting the number killed in the cities of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez at 297 on Monday.

In Monday's other developments, the government announced it was raising all public-sector salaries and pensions by 15 per cent.

Samir Radwan, Egypt's new finance minister, told the state MENA news agency that increasing pensions would cost the government 6.5 billion Egyptian pounds ($940m), while a five billion pound ($840m) fund has also been created to compensate those affected by looting or vandalism during the protests.

Click here for more on Al Jazeera's special coverage 

The government is keen on projecting the image of stability returning to the country, but protesters are unconvinced.

"The word 'stability' is a word the regime uses all the time - but ... what is stability without freedom?" Dr Sally Moore, a representative of the Popular Campaign in Support of Elbaradei (one of six groups that makes the "Youth of the Egyptian Revolution" coalition), told Al Jazeera.

"We are in for the long haul. The regime is trying to play us against the people in Tahrir Square, but we always remind them they are our people, our families.

"We are talking about freedom ... about lost rights for 30 years, ... about torture ... and I think people want radical change, not only minor reform."

Omar Suleiman, the country's newly appointed vice-president, began meetings with six opposition groups on Sunday, including the banned Muslim Brotherhood (MB), in an attempt to end the crisis.

However, Salma El-Tarzi, an activist in Tahrir Square, told Al Jazeera that she was indifferent to the talks.

"The political parties can do whatever they please because they don't represent us," she said.

"This is not a revolution made by the parties. The parties have been there for 30 years and they've done nothing. This is the people's revolution."

Some analysts have called the Muslim Brotherhood's participation in the dialogue a major concession.

The group had initially refused to participate in any negotiations unless Mubarak resigned.

Brotherhood's demand

Essam El-Erian, a member of the MB, Egypt's largest opposition group, told Al Jazeera that it has to participate "in any dialogue that can meet the demands of the people".

Another member of the movement played down the meeting, saying the MB is not prepared to drop its central demand of calling for Mubarak to resign as president.

"We cannot call it talks or negotiations. The Muslim Brotherhood went with a key condition that cannot be abandoned ... that he [Mubarak] needs to step down in order to usher in a democratic phase," Abdul Moneim Aboul Fotouh told Al Jazeera.

According to a statement from Suleiman's office following the meeting, the government offered to form a committee to examine proposed constitutional amendments, pursue allegedly corrupt government officials, "liberalise" media and communications and lift the state of emergency in the country when the security situation was deemed to be appropriate.

But Fotouh said the government had failed to take concrete measures on the ground.

"If they were serious, the parliament would have been dissolved, also a presidential decree ending the emergency law".

Egypt has been under emergency rule since 1981, the year Mubarak assumed power.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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