Government officials, meanwhile, sought to depict that normalcy was returning to a capital that has been paralyzed for nearly two weeks by the crisis. State TV announced that banks and courts, closed for most of the turmoil, will reopen Sunday, the start of Egypt’s work week, though daily bank withdrawals will be limited to $15,000 and the stock market will remain shut at least through Monday.
In Tahrir, Elwan Abdul Rahman, a 26-year-old who came from southern Egypt on Friday to join protesters, dismissed the prime minister’s comments. “He’s laughing at the world, he’s laughing at all of us,” he said, pointing at the crowds and saying, “Do you think they’re gonna go away tomorrow? … People are here with their blood and their soul.”
The government and military have promised not to try to clear protesters from Tahrir, and soldiers guarding the square continued to let people enter to join the growing rally.
But there were signs of tension Saturday. At one point, army tanks tried to try to bulldoze away several burned out vehicles that protesters used in barricades during fighting this week with pro-regime attackers. The protesters say they want the gutted chassis in place in case of a new attack. Protesters clambered onto the vehicles and lay down in front of them to prevent soldiers from removing them, and only after heated arguments did the troops agree.
Also, there were reports for the first time of attempts by troops guarding the square’s entrances to prevent those entering from bringing food for protesters, thousands of whom have camped out for days and need a constant flow of supplies.
Mohammad Radwan, 31, said soldiers harassed him as he brought in supplies of bread, cheese and lunch meat and tried to confiscate some of the food until he shouted them down. “They want to suffocate the people in Tahrir and this is the most obvious attack on them without actually attacking,” he said.
One proposal floated by the “Wise Men” would have Mubarak “deputize” Suleiman with his powers and step aside in every way but name, perhaps keeping the presidency title for the time being at least. The Wise Men have met twice with Suleiman and Shafiq to discuss the proposal, which also involves the dissolving of the parliament monopolized by the ruling party and the end of emergency laws that give security forces near-unlimited powers.
But “the stumbling point remains that of the president stepping down,” said Amr el-Shobaki, a Wise Men member. The group comprises about a dozen prominent public figures and jurists.
One of the protest organizers who met with Suleiman Friday night said the proposal “could be a way out of the crisis.” But he too said there was no sign of Suleiman accepting. “The problem is in the president,” he said. “He is not getting it that he has become a burden on everybody.”
The protest organizers themselves are a mix of small movements who managed to draw broadbased support among a public disenchanted with Mubarak’s rule. The majority are young secular leftists and liberals, who launched the wave of protests though an Internet campaign, but the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood also has built a prominent role.
Protesters, however, distrust a process conducted by the current government, given the regime’s overwhelming domination of the playing field, including a grip on security services and the media, a vast patronage system, a constitution that effectively enshrines its monopoly and a history of rigging elections.
AP correspondents Hamza Hendawi, Paul Schemm, Hadeel al-Shalchi and Lee Keath contributed to this report.
By Elaine Donnelly
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