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Egyptian protesters fear revenge if Mubarak holds on
CAIRO (AP) — The trappings of a determined protest movement — chanting, flags and raised fists — fill Tahrir Square, the hard-won enclave of those who seek a new Egypt. But some there fear an enemy in their midst.
After the initial euphoria over their defiance of a state once thought impregnable, protesters increasingly are uneasy that President Hosni Mubarak or leaders he has chosen may hang on to power.
If they do, there is a growing fear that the entrenched regime will try to exact revenge in the way it has done so many times before — mass arrests and abuse of detainees.
Many in Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the protests in Cairo, have noticed some in the crowds who look out of place. They hold mobile telephones aloft, recording video of the panorama. The protesters suspect these are undercover police documenting who is attending the protests, and they fear that if they don’t win far-reaching concessions soon, an emboldened security establishment will identify and round them up, one by one.
“We’ve heard about plainclothes security milling about in the crowd,” said Salih Abdul Aziz, 39, who first joined protests at the square on Jan. 28, a day of intense clashes with riot police. “We are careful in what we say to each other, and we don’t talk politics very much to people we don’t know.”
For decades, Egyptians have endured brutality and corruption at the hands of police, and fear is a part of their fiber. A 30-year-old teacher who has met with government officials to discuss reforms said one of the protesters’ main demands is the annulment of Egypt’s repressive emergency laws, which the government has promised to lift eventually.
“This must happen. Otherwise, we are not safe. We can be arrested any time,” said the teacher, who gave only her first name, Heba, for fear of government retribution.
The emergency laws expand police powers and sharply curtail rights to demonstrate and organize politically. The restrictions were imposed after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981, which led to Mr. Mubarak’s taking power.
A Human Rights Watch worker said she had heard of recent detentions involving “lower-level harassment” of people approaching Tahrir Square with blankets and other supplies, or for alleged violations of a nightly curfew.
“There are new reports every day,” rights activist Heba Morayef said. “It’s not all targeted.”
The Arab Network for Human Rights Information, an Egyptian group, said a prominent Egyptian blogger has been missing since Sunday night.
Abdel Kareem Nabil disappeared after leaving Tahrir Square, said Gamal Eid, a group activist. Mr. Nabil was released in November after four years in jail for writings deemed insulting to Islam and for calling Mr. Mubarak “a symbol of tyranny.”
Mr. Eid said his group has recorded about 40 people missing and believed to be in detention since Jan. 28. He said that it was not a comprehensive list and that his group was still compiling data on missing people.
On Monday, the government freed Wael Ghonim, a Google Inc. executive who was behind a Facebook page that rallied support for the protest movement. The government has promised to release other detained protesters, though it has not commented on the numbers and locations of people it is holding.
Talking to the Egyptian station Dream 2 TV, Mr. Ghonim described how he met the new head of the ruling National Democratic Party after his release and urged him to quit because his party was “rotten.”
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