Central Cairo was again today the scene of a massive demonstration numbering in the hundreds of thousands, as ordinary Egyptians traveled to lend their support to the pro-democracy movement and call for the end of the regime of Hosni Mubarak. Thousands marched from Tahrir Square to the parliament, denouncing the parliament, which Mubarak filled with 83% membership from his own party in rigged elections last year, and calling for a new government.
It is widely believed that the emotional interview given by Wael Ghonim after his release yesterday from secret security custody. Ghonim was overwhelmed by emotion when asked about protesters who died fighting for democracy and said he is not a hero, he was just a man with a keyboard. Ghonim was abducted in broad daylight, by plainclothes security agents, three days after the protests began, while marching peacefully through central Cairo.
Ghonim’s interview, on Egyptian satellite channel DreamTV, is reported to have changed many minds of people who had not intended to join the protests, but who now see the regime as discredited and the state media, under close control of the regime, as a propaganda mill. Ghonim was welcomed by rousing cheers from hundreds of thousands of demonstrators who chanted his name; he said the movement will not relent; the authoritarian regime must give way to democracy.
The demonstrations in central Cairo today are being called the most massive to date. While the military has been pressuring demonstrators to abandon Tahrir Square and allow Egypt to “return to normalcy”, demonstrators have said the concessions offered by the regime are inadequate and today decided to expand their hold on the nation’s capital, marching to the parliament, where tonight demonstrators are said to be setting up camp.
There were massive demonstrations today in the Nile Delta city of Mansura, north of Cairo, and more demonstrations are being planned across Egypt for this week. According to an NPR report, protest organizers have said they will not abandon Tahrir Square, which is increasingly being seen as the birthplace of the world’s newest democracy; instead, they plan to build up the overnight population there and at the parliament, and to fill squares in cities across Egypt by this Friday.
There are spreading calls from across Egyptian society and from within the protest movement to name Wael Ghonim official spokesperson for the pro-democracy movement. By midnight tonight local time, there were nearly 200,000 supporters signed up to a Facebook-based account to “authorize Ghoneim” as spokesperson for the movement.
Ghonim got a thunderous welcome when he joined a massive demonstration in Tahrir Square on Tuesday, telling the crowd: “We will not abandon our demand and that is the departure of the regime. My condolences to the fathers and mothers who lost sons and daughters who died for their dream.”
Ahmad Mustafa, protesting in the square, described how he had been moved by Ghonim. “I felt I could relate to him. He’s the same age as me, he’s pretty much the same background. I felt so connected to him, he portrayed me and the situation I’m in. Some of my friends who have not taken part in the demonstrations since they started are going to come today because of what they saw yesterday. It has changed something in them. Sometimes you need some kind of spark to get you to go, and that’s good.”
There is mounting concern the regime is planning another wave of arrests and street violence, but the protest movement says they will not be persuaded to accept the regime’s offer to stay in power until September. Today, Omar Suleiman announced Pres. Mubarak was supporting the “consensus” now growing across the nation and will propose constitutional amendments to determine who is “allowed” to run in the next presidential elections. (At present, no party is allowed to challenge Mubarak.)
Protest leaders say the reforms being offered are insufficient and will not end the demonstrations. They say a condition of negotiation is the resignation of Pres. Hosni Mubarak and the unconditional end of the regime. They want an interim government, run by a broad coalition of opposition groups, to oversee the transition to democracy. Wael Ghonim sent out this tweet late this evening: “Dear Egyptians, Failure is not an option #Jan25“.
UPDATE, 11:08 pm EST (6:08 am Wed., Cairo): Reports pouring in through Twitter of violent attacks against demonstrators in New Valley (Wadi al-Gadid), the governorate which encompasses most of the southwest of the country. It is unclear whether the reports have been confirmed, or what led to the deaths, but reaction among pro-democracy activists appears to suggest there is a violent crackdown underway.
There are reports emerging that pro-Mubarak police freed convicts from Wadi Prison so they could rampage in the community and instill fear in the population. The strategy appears to be the same as the one used on Jan. 28 and 29, when various prisons saw mass escapes, apparently facilitated by secret police, and which resulted in the liberation of a Hamas leader, violent rioting and the deaths of well over 200 people.
The unrest is the latest signal the Mubarak regime appears unwilling to relinquish its grip on power or to live up to the promises it has been making of reform and “concessions”.
UPDATE, 11:30 pm EST (6:30 am Wed., Cairo): One report, by the blogger Zeinobia, says a violent response by at least one corrupt police official may be linked to the violence in the city of Kharga, in Wadi al-Gadid governorate. After the chief inspector was transferred away from Kharga, “he returned back along with his officers insulting people telling them they were not men.”
Protests and confrontation allegedly ensued. According to Zeinobia, “the police force used rubber ammo then live ammo. Things got bad to worse and sooner prisoners of New Valley escaped while the state security there used thugs . It is the same scenario happened in the valley of the Nile taking place at our western desert !!”
The website Youm7 tonight has published photographs reportedly showing victims of the violent police crackdown. The men shown were clearly injured in a violent attack. Some are seen holding metal bullets which appear to have been distressed by having been fired.
UPDATE, 11:37 pm EST (6:37 am Wed., Cairo): The following accounts have been published to Twitter during the last 5 minutes, regarding an apparent crackdown in Kharga Oasis, Wadi al-Gadid (New Valley):
It appears clear that under cover of darkness, attempts continue to subdue pro-democracy demonstrations, or demonstrations against corruption, wherever they are occurring inside Egypt. Today, protest organizers announced they intended to stage mass demonstrations in every corner of the nation as soon as Friday. The regime has been offering modest concessions, while continuing its persecution of opposition leaders and the press.