Egypt’s Mubarak hangs on as army steps back

President Hosni Mubarak’s grip on Egypt looked increasingly tenuous on Tuesday after the army pledged not to confront protesters who converged in Cairo in their tens of thousands to demand an end to his 30-year rule. Anti-Mubarak reformists and opposition figures hoped one million Egyptians would join the biggest protest to mark an uprising which erupted a week ago to force Mubarak to step down. The disintegration of Mubarak’s power structure would usher in a new era in modern Egyptian history and reconfigure the geopolitical map of the Middle East, with huge ramifications for Washington and allies from Israel to oil giant Saudi Arabia. The army, a powerful and respected force in Egypt, dealt a possibly fatal blow to the 82-year-old Mubarak on Monday night when it said troops would not open fire on protesters and that they had legitimate grievances and a right to peaceful protest. Mubarak’s new vice president, Omar Suleiman, appointed to show the government was willing to bring in reforms, offered to open a dialogue with the opposition. But the measure, along with the dismissal of his cabinet and the promise of reform, appeared to be too little, too late. “There is nothing that we will accept from him other than he takes the plane and leaves,” said Ahmed Helmi, a 45-year-old lawyer, one of thousands of Egyptians flocking to Tahrir Square on Tuesday to try and to push Mubarak over the edge.

CORRUPTION, REPRESSION

The uprising broke out eight days ago amongst a population fed up with corruption, oppression and economic hardship and quickly spiraled to a crisis unprecedented during 30 years of rule enforced by ruthless security forces. The United States and other Western allies watched at first in confusion as thousands demanded the downfall of a stalwart ally who has been a key figure in Middle East peace moves. As the crisis grew, Washington called for reforms and free elections but it is also concerned that Islamists could gain a slice of power should Mubarak be forced out. Political analysts said it was now just a matter of time until Mubarak stepped down. “The succession is already under way,” said Steven Cook at the Council on Foreign Relations. “The important thing now is to manage Mubarak’s exit, which must be as graceful as possible at this point. For honor’s sake, the brass won’t have it any other way.” In Tahrir (Liberation) Square, which has become the focus of the protest movement, people poured in under the watch of soldiers backed by tanks and armored personnel carriers. Effigies of Mubarak hang from traffic lights and some protesters carried a mock coffin with the words: “The funeral is in Tel Aviv.”

The crowd included lawyers and other professionals as well as workers and students, showing the breadth of opposition to Mubarak. Women and men stood together holding hands. “I don’t think Mubarak will last past Friday. There is no way. His country is falling,” Amina Zaki, 30-year-old graphic designer, said. Protesters were inspired in part by a revolt in Tunisia which toppled its president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali on January 14. But years of repression have left few obvious civilian leaders able to fill any gap left by Mubarak’s departure. The military, which has run Egypt since it toppled the monarchy in 1952, will be the key player in deciding who replaces him. Some analysts expect it to retain significant power while introducing enough reforms to defuse the protests. Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has offered to act as a transitional leader to prepare Egypt for democratic elections. Many Egyptians, however, have said they had reservations about the Nobel peace laureate who has spent much of his recent career outside the country.

MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD EMERGES

Among the more organized in the opposition is the hitherto banned Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood. It stayed in the background early in the uprising but is now raising its profile, seeking to tie up with ElBaradei. The Brotherhood said on Monday it was calling for protests until the whole establishment departed — “including the president, his party, his ministers and his parliament”. At least 140 people have died since demonstrations began last Tuesday, most in clashes between protesters and the hated police forces. Violence also broke out in Suez, Alexandria and other cities. Foreign governments have taken steps to evacuate nationals trapped by the unrest, including thousands of tourists. Companies also pulled out staff as the confrontation brought economic life to a halt.

In global markets, investors shifted focus from worrying about Egypt as improved economic data and corporate results in the developed world lifted stocks. The price of oil, the most sensitive indicator of market unease about Egypt, eased although Brent crude was still a few cents above $100 a barrel. The Egyptian crisis has prompted bursts of risk aversion on financial markets over the past few days. The main concern is the prospect of the unrest spreading to the autocratic oil-producing Gulf nations. (Additional reporting by Andrew Hammond, Patrick Werr, Dina Zayed, Marwa Awad, Shaimaa Fayed, Yasmine Saleh, and Alison Williams in Cairo, writing by Angus MacSwan; Editing by Peter Millership) – Yahoo News