‘No to Suleiman, no to Shafiq’

The headline of this post was a common banner at protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

CAIRO, EGYPT — The headline of this post was a common banner at protests on Sunday night in Cairo’s Tahrir Square – a sign that Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak hasn’t succeeded in mollifying anti-government demonstrators with two new appointments.

One enterprising Egyptian actually set up a small kiosk and sold the signs outside the square.

Mubarak yesterday installed Omar Suleiman, his longtime intelligence chief, as vice president and former air force commander Ahmed Shafik as prime minister.

But the move has won him little popular support, as evidenced by the signs at tonight’s rally, or the group of about 25 demonstrators who surrounded a tank outside the Egyptian museum and chanted slogans about the Egyptian intelligence chief. “Suleiman, Suleiman, get on a plane tonight,” was one refrain.

Suleiman’s appointment as vice president has been described by some as a major step Egypt hasn’t had a vice president since Mubarak took office, after all.

But most Egyptians at Sunday’s protest dismissed the appointment as a stunt: Ahmed, a taxi driver from the Medinat Nasr neighbourhood, called him “Mubarak’s right hand” Osama, a businessman who walked across the bridge from Cairo’s upscale Zamalek district, called him “the big man” behind the regime’s “dirty policies.”

Khalid, a 35-year-old shoe salesman from downtown Cairo, turned the tables a bit, asking me who the American government would prefer as Egypt’s president. Omar Suleiman, I answered.

“That’s why he was appointed,” Khalid said.

Demonstrators in Tahrir were deeply divided, though, about which of Egypt’s other leading politicians they did support. A few mentioned Ayman Nour, the once-jailed leader of the Ghad party who held a rally in downtown Cairo last night.

Even fewer voiced their support for Mohamed ElBaradei, the former IAEA chief indeed, while hundreds of demonstrators who surrounded him tonight seized the media’s attention, thousands of other protesters nearby took no notice of his speech.

“ElBaradei has been outside of Egypt for 40 years,” said Mohammad Hassan, a dry cleaner from Giza, shortly after ElBaradei spoke. “He doesn’t know the Egyptian people.”

Egyptian television, meanwhile, said little about the demonstrations. The focus is mostly on security: State-owned channel 2 keeps airing video of hundreds of people rounded up by security forces in Cairo, Fayoum, and other cities. The channel described them at least once as “terrorists.”

But there have been few reports of looting tonight, a common complaint from Saturday. That’s due at least in part to the “neighbourhood watches” – groups of armed young men manning roadblocks at many of Cairo’s intersections. The road from the airport to downtown Cairo was lined with dozens of those impromptu checkpoints, and several are even operating on side streets around Tahrir Square – an area with a heavy army presence.