A tense calm grips Egypt

After 11 days of unrest - some days violent, others jubilant - Egyptian protesters are determined to stay the course.

    Taking a rest from the unrest of recent days, Egyptians are bracing themselves for what may come [Al Jazeera]

    If there is a word to characterise Friday's protests in Cairo, it is "stalemate" - a welcome change after the bloody violence of the last two days, but a sign that the country is far from resolving its political paralysis.

    Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to Cairo's Tahrir Square, as they have for the last eleven days. Some have been there since demonstrations started last week, still wearing bandages and casts from the injuries they suffered during clashes; others arrived for the first time Friday, bringing their families to wave flags and chant slogans.

    Thursday’s violence was replaced by a tense calm. The army secured the areas around the Corniche and the 6th of October and Qasr al-Nil bridges; inside their cordon, groups of pro-democracy demonstrators did their own security, checking IDs and bags. Sporadic clashes took place less than a kilometre away from Tahrir, but inside the square, the atmosphere was peaceful.

    Peaceful, but tinged with uncertainty, as many protesters fear what might happen on Saturday. "I just don't know," said Negla, a doctor from Sharm al-Sheikh. "This is a revolution now, and if we stop halfway, many of us are going to die."

    Determined protesters

    The army has promised to provide security for protesters leaving Tahrir Square, and it has increased its presence downtown, with dozens of tanks and soldiers in riot gear stationed around the square. One army officer said that his orders for Saturday were the same as for Friday: to protect the square and conduct crowd control.

    But the army has been reluctant to involve itself in the fighting - when crowds of Mubarak supporters stormed the square on Thursday, the army fled.

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    Away from downtown Cairo, a small group of supporters of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak held their own rally in the upscale Mohandiseen neighbourhood. The rally received a lot of attention on state television, but only a few thousand protesters showed up.

    There were a few developments behind the scenes, where a "committee of wise men" presented proposals for ending the political crisis. The committee - which was formed last night, and includes Arab League secretary-general Amr Moussa, Egyptian business tycoon Naguib Sawiris, and others - proposed that vice president Omar Suleiman preside over a transitional government, and that he pledge to dissolve parliament (whose lower house was elected just last year) and call early elections.

    Suleiman will reportedly meet on Saturday with members of several opposition parties. But most of Egypt’s opposition has already sworn off any dialogue with the government until Mubarak steps down - so it's unclear what, if anything, they'll accomplish at Saturday's meeting.

    "We stand here until he goes out of Egypt," said Ahmed, a young man who showed off the burns and cuts on his arms from Thursday's fighting.

    "I'm not leaving."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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