Thu, February 10, 2011
World > Middle East

Strikes in Egypt add to pressure from protests(3)

2011-02-10 08:35:46 GMT2011-02-10 16:35:46(Beijing Time)

Anti-government protesters jog along a street as part of their daily exercises after spending the night in front of the Egyptian Parliament in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

The Obama administration is trying to keep pressure on Egypt's leaders. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Egypt's government had not even met a minimum threshold of reforms demanded by its people and warned that massive protests will continue until changes are made.

Fresh support for the protesters is coming from an unlikely corner — Egypt's state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper. The mouthpiece of successive regimes since the 1950s, the paper has sharply changed the tone of its unrest coverage and is using the word "revolution" to describe the anti-Mubarak demonstrations. The newspaper, Egypt's oldest, previously echoed official statements that called the protesters "outlaws" or "saboteurs" and a "bunch of conspirators."

Efforts by Vice President Suleiman to open a dialogue with protesters over reforms have broken down since the weekend, with youth organizers of the movement deeply suspicious that he plans only superficial changes far short of real democracy. They refuse any talks unless Mubarak steps down first.

Showing growing impatience with the rejection, Suleiman issued a sharp warning that raised the prospect of a renewed crackdown. He told Egyptian newspaper editors late Tuesday that there could be a "coup" unless demonstrators agree to enter negotiations.

Protesters considered the reference to a coup to be a veiled reference to a possible new crackdown. Suleiman, a military man who was intelligence chief before being elevated to vice president amid the crisis, tried to explain the coup remark by saying: "I mean a coup of the regime against itself, or a military coup or an absence of the system. Some force, whether its the army or police or the intelligence agency or the (opposition Muslim) Brotherhood or the youth themselves could carry out 'creative chaos' to end the regime and take power," he said.

"We can't bear this for a long time," Suleiman said of the protests. "There must be an end to this crisis as soon as possible." He said the regime wants to resolve the crisis through dialogue, warning: "We don't want to deal with Egyptian society with police tools."

Officials have made a series of pledges not to attack, harass or arrest the activists, but Suleiman's comments suggested that won't last forever.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said in an interview with "PBS NewsHour" that there would be chaos if Mubarak stepped down immediately. He warned that if the opposition tried to compose an unconstitutional government, "then maybe the armed forces would feel compelled to intervene in a more drastic manner. Do we want the armed forces to assume the responsibility of stabilizing the nation thru imposing martial law, and army in the streets?"

Suleiman, a close confident of the president, rejected any "end to the regime" including an immediate departure for Mubarak, who says he will serve out the rest of his term until September elections.

Suleiman suggested Egypt was not ready for democracy, and said a government-formed panel of judges, dominated by Mubarak loyalists, would push ahead with recommending its own constitutional amendments to be put to a referendum. Those statements further deepened protesters' skepticism over his intentions.

Still, authorities continued to try to project an image of normalcy. Egypt's most famous tourist attraction, the Pyramids of Giza, reopened to tourists on Wednesday after a 12-day closure. But few came to visit — tens of thousands of foreigners have fled Egypt amid the chaos, taking with them an important facet of the nation's economy.

Meanwhile, the newly appointed culture minister, Gabr Asfour, resigned his post for health reasons, according to government spokesman Magdy Rady.


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