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In the NewsFebruary 06, 2011 19:03

Cairo: "Mubarak Has To Go. That is Non-Negotiable"

ABOUT Charles M. Sennott

A longtime foreign correspondent for The Boston Globe, Charles M. Sennott is the executive editor of GlobalPost and is reporting for FRONTLINE from Egypt for a broadcast that will air on Feb. 22.

CAIRO - There is no sign of the protests here quieting down.

Early Sunday morning, the bridges over the Nile River, which had been previously blocked by Egyptian Army tanks, were re-opened. For awhile this morning, Tahrir (Liberation) Square seemed quiet and it seemed like this enormous, sprawling city would try to get back to work and return to some sense of normalcy.

There were long lines at banks, which had been closed during the crisis over the last 12 days. But they were only opened for three hours. The stock market still remains closed. The financial cost of this revolt is extraordinary with the government estimating it is somewhere in the neighborhood of $300 million per day. That's largely because the country's $11 billion annual revenue stream from tourism is completely dried up.

But toward the late afternoon, the river of humanity began flowing across the bridges again and pouring into the square, filling it with a crowd that was as jubilant and determined as any other day since the protests began. There was a wedding in the square today by a couple who decided that all of the protesters were their "family" and therefore they wanted to make their vows right in the square. There were joint prayer services by Muslims and Christians and signs and slogans that spoke of unity between Muslims and Christians.

In the early evening, gunshots were fired over the square, which were reportedly fired by the military and intended to clear the crowd. But they did little to budge anyone and from the balcony of our hotel it seemed to almost steel the resolve of the crowd.

They cheered and chanted even more loudly after the echo of the warning shots faded into the night.

The Politics of the Day

Opposition leaders, including the Muslim Brotherhood, met with the newly appointed vice president for negotiations around forming a transitional government.

This was an historic moment for the Muslim Brotherhood, which was outlawed by the regime, but now seems to be emerging as a major force within the opposition. It showed that they are major players, and in a de facto way officially recognized by the government.

The move revealed that moderates are in control of the movement, but it may alienate some of the hardliners who fear that negotiating with President Hosni Mubarak's hand-picked Vice President Omar Suleiman, the former intelligence chief, will provide legitimacy to the regime.

The Muslim Brotherhood announced a press conference and we jumped in our car to drive out to the neighborhood of Heliopolis, about a 45-minute drive outside the city center, to see the leadership.

The streets are still pretty unpredictable and menacing and this was our first real outing beyond the square. What we found was Cairo's notoriously heavy traffic, which seemed strangely comforting on some level. We didn't experience any problems or run into any angry mobs supporting Mubarak. But still the reports of pro-Mubarak thugs targeting the press corps were persistent yesterday. So we kept our heads down.

The press conference at the Muslim Brotherhood's Ministers' Council was packed, mostly with Egyptian journalists. Seems that among Western news organizations only FRONTLINE, the BBC and Foreign Policy magazine were bold enough to make the journey.

At a packed press conference at the Muslim Brotherhood's Ministers' Council, Essam al-Arian, a senior member of the movement, said, "Today in the morning, we accepted the offer to be part of a dialogue to end this crisis. ... Our decision to accept dialogue is to end the bloodshed."

"If the regime does not move quickly to accept the people's demands that Mubarak step down then we will end this dialogue," he added.

He went out of his way to correct a report on the BBC that stated the Muslim Brotherhood, in agreeing to the dialogue, had accepted Mubarak staying in power until September.

"This is not true. We demand the immediate removal of the head of state," he said.

On the way back, I wondered how Hisham Ali, a young Muslim Brotherhood activist who has made it his personal mission to help us out for no money or favors, felt about his leaders meeting with Suleiman.

Was it a sell out?

"No, I don't think so," said Ali. "The leadership said they would not meet with the government a few days ago and I didn't understand that. Why not meet with them? Why not listen to what they have to say?" he asked. "I think they were wise, but they must not give up on the demand that Mubarak has to go. That is not negotiable."


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posted february 06, 2011

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