- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 2, 2011

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt | The 9-day-old uprising in Egypt took a dark turn Wednesday, as pro-government demonstrators riding horses and camels clashed with pro-democracy protesters hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails in riots that broke out across the country.

The government reported that three people were killed and more than 1,500 were wounded in conflicts, as thousands of Egyptians continued to take to the streets to demand the immediate end of President Hosni Mubarak’s nearly 30 years in power.

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in a phone conversation with newly appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman, condemned the violence and encouraged the Egyptian government to hold those responsible fully accountable.

Mrs. Clinton told Mr. Suleiman that the transition to a reformed government must start immediately, even though Mr. Mubarak said in a nationally televised address Tuesday that he would remain in office until September to oversee the transition.

In Alexandria, Egypt’s second-largest city, protests included anti-Mubarak demonstrators, who have flooded the streets for more than a week.

But unlike previous days, an aggressive pro-regime contingency joined in and demanded the end of the uprising. “Mubarak, 100 percent,” said one man as the crowd cheered and waved flags.

Near Alexandria’s largest train station, a fight broke out after some protesters began chanting, “We’re soiled with blood. We defend you, Mubarak.”

The violence shows that Mr. Mubarak and Mr. Suleiman are trying to wrest the advantage from the opposition by resorting to old tricks, said Marina Ottaway, director of the Middle East program at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Some activists in Alexandria said the outburst of pro-Mubarak activity was a plot to discredit the uprising, divide the people and give the police a legitimate cause to intervene.

Other Egyptians said the demographics of the government supporters cast suspicions on the sincerity of the new dynamic at the demonstrations.

“Look at the anti-regime protesters and the Hosni Mubarak supporters,” said Alexandrian Hossam al-Shafeey. He noted that in the past week, the uprising had drawn supporters of every age and socioeconomic status and both sexes. The pro-regime demonstrators appeared to be primarily strong young men, he said. “It should be a mix of all the nation on both sides.”

Others said the pro-Mubarak demonstrators suddenly appeared because many Egyptians changed their position after the president’s speech on Tuesday.

Mr. Mubarak promised to reform laws that cripple opposition parties, impose term limits on presidents and fight corruption — and to retire at the end of his term. “I will work in the remaining months of my term to take the steps to ensure peaceful transfer of power,” he said.

“What he outlined is a process that is completely controlled by the government without participation from the opposition, and they are not going to settle for it,” Ms. Ottaway said in Washington.

Other Arab leaders, facing similar protests inspired by the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, already have begun to make concessions to their increasingly demanding people.

Jordans King Abdullah II fired unpopular Prime Minister Samir Rifai. The Palestinian Authority promised new elections. Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Salah, who has been in office for about 30 years, offered to adjust presidential term limits and raise the salaries of government workers substantially.

Meanwhile, Frank G. Wisner, a former U.S. ambassador to Egypt whom the Obama administration dispatched this week for discussions with Mr. Mubarak, was on a plane back to the U.S. as violence broke out in Cairo.

Mr. Wisner met with Mr. Mubarak and Mr. Suleiman.

U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Margaret Scobey also has been in regular contact with officials in the Mubarak government.

“The issue here is not a lack of communication,” said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley.

The uprisings continue to inspire activists in the region and beyond. Protests are planned for Friday in Syria, a country known not to tolerate civil disobedience.

Algerians also are expected to stage more protests in the coming weeks, and China has banned news about Egypt, apparently in fear of inspiring similar uprisings at home.

Opponents of the Egyptian regime, however, were enraged by the president’s promises. For nine days, many day and night, they have been marching, chanting and carrying signs that read “Get out, Mubarak,” “Get Out, Pig,” or just “Get Out.”

Protesters say their position could not be more clear: “We do not want Mubarak and his government,” said activist Omar Soliman.

On Tuesday, hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Tahrir Square in what organizers called the “march of a million people.” It was the largest anti-Mubarak protest to date and a prequel to the next demonstration.

For what they are calling “Departure Friday,” they hope to draw 10 million demonstrators in front of the presidential palace in Cairo, the home of Mr. Mubarak.

Cairo activist Mohamed Aboulfotouh said his entire family, including his mother, would attend. But, he added, he is not convinced the day will end peacefully.

“It’s the turning point in this country’s history,” he said. “The regime will never easily give up.”

On Wednesday, about 200 Americans were flown out of Egypt, bringing to about 1,800 the number of U.S. citizens who have left the country since Monday. The Obama administration has planned more charter flights for Thursday.

Mr. Crowley said only a small number of official U.S. personnel and their family members remain in the country. “For the most part, the evacuation has been … completed,” he said.

Egyptians are anxious about the days to come, and the streets of Alexandria were tense after the 4 p.m. curfew Wednesday. Groups of volunteer civilian security guards carrying bats, pipes or clubs stopped cars on every city block, searching trunks and checking identification in the absence of any police presence.

“I have to go out now,” Mr. Shafeey said as he got ready to join the volunteers guarding the streets. “To set up my own checkpoint.”

Ashish Kumar Sen contributed to this report from Washington.

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