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Web-Exclusive ReportFebruary 11, 2011 08:14

Rage in Cairo

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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.

PEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images

CAIRO -- The Egyptian revolution is teetering on the edge of widespread violence this morning.

With a call by angry, disillusioned protesters for stepped up demonstrations across the country and fears of bloodshed, a confrontation on the streets is expected that may test the loyalties of Egypt's army.

In Tahrir Square last night, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's speech was seen by the demonstrators as a stunning surprise, and a bitter betrayal. All evening, the word had spread from Western news organizations that Mubarak would step down. Even CIA director Leon Panetta told Congress that he believed that he was stepping down after 30 years of U.S.-backed dictatorial rule. And then suddenly and dramatically, Mubarak defied the will of the people.

His speech to the nation was broadcast on a large screen in Tahrir Square and riveted the nation. His words were rambling as he spoke in his signature low baritone and vowed to stay on until September elections. As he told the nation that he would not step down, protesters listened in disbelief. Then rage.

One passage in particular prompted a wave of emotion.

"I was young once, too," Mubarak said.

The crowd exploded with chants in Arabic of "Leave, leave, leave!"

Among a sea of hundreds of thousands of protesters in the square, which has become the epicenter of more than two weeks of protests, people held up the soles of their shoes, a deep insult in Arab culture. Many looked stunned. Some were in tears. Most screamed and chanted in rage the simple words: "Leave, leave, leave."

Flags that had been waving in celebration as the word filtered through the crowd that he was stepping down, were suddenly being marshaled in angry defiance as a huge throng of people headed out into the dark streets toward the government-run television center, vowing to take it over.

"He is not listening to his people. He is insulting his people. We have spoken and he has not shown us any respect. We have no choice but to do everything to remove him. He has risked the country for his arrogance," said Ayman Fareed, 35, who he said he would not leave the square until Mubarak stepped down.

"We will give our lives for this," he said, as he joined the crowd surging forward to confront government troops around the television center.

In the bitter first light of dawn today, demonstrators were emerging from under blankets and from tents set up throughout the square with a plan that includes taking the protests beyond Tahrir Square and into at least five other squares.

"We are not going to stop. We are going to keep the demonstrations going. We are going to do whatever it takes," said Orla Sharba, one of the youth organizers on what has become known as the Revolutionary Youth Council, a collection of about 20 young people from different opposition movements.

"We will not stop until he leaves and he listens to the people," said Sharba.

Nour, a young protester stood in the darkness looking out at the crowd last night and said, "I am sure peaceful protesters will be killed. There will be violence and he has done this to our country. Mubarak has risked the blood of this nation ... All of us are prepared to die for this. We are in this to the end."

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posted february 11, 2011

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