Home > age of rage, Egypt > Huge protest to kick off in Egypt

Huge protest to kick off in Egypt

February 1, 2011
The army has said it is aware of the “legitimate demands” of the people, and has promised not to use force [Reuters]

Protesters in the Egyptian capital have begun gathering for a planned “march of a million”, calling for Hosni Mubarak, the embattled Egyptian president, to step down.

Thousands of demonstrators began gathering from early on Tuesday morning in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, which has been the focal point of protests in the capital and served as the meeting area for the march to begin on the eighth day of an uprising that has so far claimed more than 125 lives.

Another million-strong march is planned in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, as national train services were canceled in an apparent bid to stymie protests. Protest organizers have also called for the march to coincide with the beginning of an indefinite strike.

Reporting from Cairo, an Al Jazeera correspondent reported that the number of people gathered in Tahrir Square on Tuesday morning, was larger than had been seen before.

Our producer in Egypt reports on the latest developments in Tahrir Square

“The numbers are certainly larger than we’ve seen over the last couple of days. A lot of people I’ve spoken to have said they will be attending, despite reports that there is the possibility that it could turn violent,” she said.

“You certainly get the feeling that the organisers will get the numbers that they want. The word is out there, despite the fact that the internet is still down … that people need to attend this march of a million.

“Possibly the only people who won’t be attending today, obviously presidential supporters, … Egyptians living in Cairo who have left to places like Sharm al-Shaikh where they’re looking for some sort of safety, and those who will be remaining in their homes to protect them from looters.

“But all groups, young, old, rich, poor, Christians, Muslims they are all heading [to Tahrir Square].”

Gigi Ibrahim, a political activist who is planning on attending the rally, told Al Jazeera the protesters will not be satisfied until Mubarak steps down.

“I think today there will be great numbers on the street … every day there are more numbers on the street than the day before. I think the protests are gaining momentum. The people … will literally not leave until Mubarak steps down,” she said.

On the increasing clampdown on the internet, an Al Jazeera online producer in Cairo reported: “For the most part, the internet is irrelevant to the protesters. It’s just been mobile phones since the mobile phone blackout stopped a couple of days ago.

“The thrust of the [protesters’] message is: ‘Mubarak still has to go’ … that’s the bottom line from everyone we’ve spoken to.

“They know that they need to take some kind of decisive step, whether its a march on the presidential palace, or perhaps on state television.”

While protesters may not reach the million-man figure, which would represent almost a tenth of the population of the city, our producer said the protest will likely “be the largest that we’ve seen” since the unrest began last week.

He said that if today’s protest does not go as planned, similar protests could be planned for Friday.

The new protests will come as the police have returned to the streets.

But while the police’s posture to be adopted in the face of the strike and marches remains unknown, the Egyptian army stated clearly on Monday that it would not stop protests

Faced with the prospect of massive numbers trying to converge on the capital, Egyptian authorities stopped all train traffic with immediate effect on Monday afternoon, and the state-owned national carrier EgyptAir said it was canceling all international and domestic flights during curfew hours (3.00pm to 8.00am local time).

Army promise

In a statement on Monday, the army said “freedom of expression” was guaranteed to all citizens using peaceful means.

“To the great people of Egypt, your armed forces, acknowledging the legitimate rights of the people,” stress that “they have not and will not use force against the Egyptian people,” said the statement.

It was the first such explicit confirmation by the army that it would not fire at demonstrators who have taken to the streets of Egypt and comes a day before Tuesday’s “march of millions”.

“The presence of the army in the streets is for your sake and to ensure your safety and well-being. The armed forces will not resort to use of force against our great people.

“Your armed forces, who are aware of the legitimacy of your demands and are keen to assume their responsibility in protecting the nation and the citizens, affirms that freedom of expression through peaceful means is guaranteed to everybody.” the army statement said.

It urged people not to resort to acts of sabotage that violate security and destroy public and private property. It warned that it would not allow outlaws to loot, attack and “terrorize citizens”.

The call for the “million-man-march” from the so-called April 6 movement has come as Mubarak swore in a new cabinet on Monday, in an attempt to defuse ongoing demonstrations across the country.

Security presence

There is a heavy army presence around the Tahrir Square area in Cairo, with tanks positioned near the square and officers checking identity papers.

Our producer in Egypt reports on the latest developments

One of Al Jazeera’s correspondents said military attempts to block access to the square on Monday by closing roads was not working as more people were arriving in a steady stream.

“Protesters say they’ll stay in this square for as long as Mubarak stays in power,” she said.

Protesters seem unfazed by Mubarak’s pledge to institute economic and political reforms. Our correspondent said people feel that such pledges “are too little, too late”.

Al Jazeera reporters in Cairo also said police had been seen returning to the streets, directing traffic, after being absent since Friday.

“The absence of police has given looters a free rein, forcing ordinary citizens to set up neighborhood patrols. Many people are wondering where the police disappeared to.

After deadly clashes in which around 125 people were killed in Cairo and other cities, protesters complained that police were using excessive force.

But an Al Jazeera correspondent said some locals greeted police as “long-lost friends” on Monday.

Panic and chaos

On Tuesday, even as Egypt continued to face economic turmoil as a result of protests, the International Monetary Fund said it was ready to put in a place an economic rebuilding policy for the country.

“The IMF is ready to help in defining the kind of economic policy that could be put in place,” IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn said.

Meanwhile, chaos has been reported at Cairo’s international airport, where thousands of foreigners are attempting to be evacuated by their home countries.

Our correspondent reported on Tuesday that about 1,000 US citizens have been evacuated to Cyprus or Turkey, from where they are expected to make their own way home.

She also said that China is sending two additional planes to evacuate its citizens.

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