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“In one week, these guys will be exhausted,” said Dr. Fouad, the surgeon, as he took a short break from his neighborhood patrol.

He said he is not for or against the Mubarak regime, but he is against the protests.

He carried a club with a large kitchen knife taped to one end and what looked like a pistol. It was a cigarette lighter, just for show. Dr. Fouad said he would soon purchase a real weapon and joked that just last week, he was a doctor. Now he is a graveyard-shift volunteer street fighter.

Weapons are about the only things that come cheap in Alexandria these days. After the police stations were burned down last week, a black market of stolen guns sprang up in Alexandria, some as cheap as $50. Dr. Fouad said he was planning to buy a rifle and a pistol.

With the army busy manning the protests, he said, he fears no one is left to defend the country.

“I cannot face a foreign army with this,” he said, holding up his club-knife.

As pro-Mubarak supporters swept the nation Wednesday, violence broke out in Cairo, killing six and injuring 800, according to state-run news. In Alexandria, fights broke out and the streets were tense as the new wave of demonstrators suddenly dominated the landscape.

Locals speculated about who the new demonstrators were and why they arrived just before what many activists hope will be the final push that drives Mr. Mubarak from power. Some said the new demonstrators were hired by the government to scare or punish the protesters. Others said they were thugs who were released prisoners and disenchanted policemen.

Marwa, a 29-year-old anti-government activist, said some of them might be businessmen angered by a popular uprising that appears to be devastating the nation’s economy.

Though she is a longtime activist, Marwa said she was afraid to be seen in public yesterday and uncharacteristically wore a veil as she slipped into a car for a brief interview. She said she hoped Alexandrians would rally again for Departure Friday, but she might not attend because her family was worried for her safety. “You don’t know what will happen,” she said.

For foreign journalists in Egypt, Thursday’s demonstrations also were fraught with fear, as many have been beaten, harassed, robbed or arrested since the anti-Mubarak demonstrators swept onto the scene. Cameras pointed at anti-Mubarak protesters immediately draw angry crowds, and several reporters have been injured. Others remain in detention or are missing.

Anti-government protesters say the conflicts on the streets will not get in the way of their mission: to collapse the regime and hold fair elections. Mai al-Mohanzef said she was not against the government until last week, when the police viciously attacked protesters and abandoned their posts.

A new government, one that doesn’t target its own citizens, is needed immediately, she said. Like many activists, she said, she fears today’s showdown could end in tragedy. But, she said, she hopes everyone attends despite the risk. “We have to sacrifice,” she said.

Ms. al-Mohanzef said she thinks that after the events of the past week, the danger of not forcing the removal of Mr. Mubarak is greater than the danger of facing him head-on at the palace.

“He doesn’t care about my security,” she said. “He only cares about his security.”

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