- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 8, 2011

CAIRO | After more than two weeks of 24-hour-a-day demonstrations, many thought Egypt’s young protesters would be tired by now. They were wrong.

On the 15th day of a popular uprising, Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo was packed Tuesday with an estimated quarter-million people demanding the immediate removal of President Hosni Mubarak.

“All of the Egyptian people don’t want him. We want him to go away, go away, go away,” said writer Rania Abu Al-Anin, almost in tears.

Since the protests started last month, Mr. Mubarak has met many of the protesters’ demands by promising to fight corruption, investigate human rights abuses, and reform presidential term limits and laws that cripple opposition political parties.

On Tuesday, Vice President Omar Suleiman announced the formation of committees that will begin implementing reforms immediately.

“The president has expressed his welcome for this national dialogue, emphasizing that it puts our feet on the right path out of this ongoing crisis,” he said, according to the Associated Press.

But as the crowds in Tahrir chant “Get out! Get out!” day after day, it comes as no surprise that few protesters believe these promises.

“I think he is lying,” law student Mohammad Farid said of Mr. Mubarak. “He’s been lying for 30 years. Why now should I [believe] what he says?”

“He killed our children,” said Ms. Abu Al-Anin, referring to the posters of the fallen demonstrators hanging above the square.

Human Rights Watch says about 300 people have been killed in the uprising, and doctors say 3,000 people have been injured in Cairo alone. Protesters say those numbers are too small to be accurate.

Frustrated by Mr. Mubarak’s refusal to leave office, many protesters insist they will stay on the streets no matter how long it takes. Hundreds camp out nightly in Tahrir Square in tents, under tarps or on donated blankets.

But the mood on Tuesday was largely optimistic as protesters said they already have proved that no future Egyptian government can discount the people in decision-making.

At one of the entrances to Tahrir Square on Tuesday morning, activists welcomed first-time protesters with songs urging people to speak their minds. “Welcome to freedom,” they sang.

In other parts of the square, young people beat water bottles and drums, making music out of a another popular chant: “I’m not leaving. He is leaving.”

By afternoon, there was a 30-minute wait to enter the square as anti-Mubarak volunteer activists examined IDs and searched throngs of people. As protesters gear up for what they hope will be their largest demonstration ever on Friday, many say they have no choice but to keep going.

Protesters say that if the revolution fades in response to Mr. Mubarak’s promises for reform, the world will turn their eyes from Egypt. Without the spotlight on the regime, many say, Mr. Mubarak will resume his old ways and silence all future dissidents.

“The regime will arrest people, will torture them, will use the same old tricks over and over again,” said Abir Enany, a tour guide. “And we are just fed up.”

Wael Ghonim, a 30-year-old Google Inc. marketing manager who was released Monday from 12 days of detention, joined the anti-government protesters in Tahrir Square on Tuesday and was greeted by cheers, the AP reported.

“We will not abandon our demand and that is the departure of the regime,” said Mr. Ghonim, a key organizer of the online campaign that sparked the first anti-Mubarak protests.

On Monday, government employees were promised a 15 percent pay raise in an effort to quell the uprising. Ms. Enany and her friends said the raise ultimately will be insignificant to most people — hardly more than the pay increases they are already guaranteed by law.

Ms. Enany, who has one 6-year-old son, said she has been out of work since the uprising crushed the nation’s tourism industry in a matter of days. “I’m willing to sacrifice for a year or even two,” she added. “It’s for the future, for my children.”

Many people ventured into Tahrir Square for the first or second time Tuesday, after spending the first part of the revolution homebound, while buildings and police vehicles burned and demonstrators fought rubber bullets, tear gas, beatings and sniper fire.

Mohammad Abdul-Khaled, a 29-year-old pharmacist, said he watched most of the events unfold on television and believed what the government media said about the protesters.

State-controlled media accused demonstrators of being extremists or vagabonds with nothing else to do. It said they were paid by foreigners to chant in Tahrir Square and eat pricey fast food. Mr. Abdul-Khaled said he also was told that the Tahrir protests included Islamic extremists and foreign spies.

At Tuesday’s protest, he carried as sign that said: “Finally proud to be Egyptian. I was wrong. You were right.”

“I was foolish, stupid, you can name it,” he said.

After visiting the square Monday, Mr. Abdul-Khaled effectively quit his job by refusing go to work the next day. He said he was inspired by the masses of ordinary people from every walk of life working together for a single cause.

Like many others, he said he plans to devote himself to the uprising until Mr. Mubarak steps down. “I told them, ‘I can’t miss this,’” he said.

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