Sunday, February 6, 2011

Muslims to protect Christians as they hold Mass in Cairo

Cairo, Egypt (CNN) -- Anti-government protesters took to the streets for the 13th day Sunday as Egypt's regime showed signs of change and ripples of normalcy slowly swept across Egypt.
Christians planned a Mass in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Sunday afternoon, anti-government protesters in the square said.
Muslim protesters said they would form a ring around the Christians to protect them during the service. The Mass will pay tribute to those killed during clashes.
Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood said it was meeting with Vice President Omar Suleiman on Sunday. Days earlier, the group had said it would not negotiate until President Hosni Mubarak leaves office.
"We did not change our stance. We decided to take the people's demands to the negotiation table," said Essam el-Erian, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood.
Suleiman wrapped up a session with opposition members Sunday and started meeting with six young people representing protesters in Tahrir Square, according to state television.
The Muslim Brotherhood is an opposition Islamist umbrella group that is officially banned but tolerated in Egypt.
The group's meeting with the government was the latest development in national political talks after state television reported that key members of the ruling National Democratic Party resigned from leadership positions Saturday. The resignation was the strongest gesture yet to placate angry Egyptians who have been protesting for almost two weeks.
Meanwhile, some banks opened for the first time since January 27 -- two days after protests began. About 50 people lined up outside a bank in Cairo, while other banks were less crowded or remained closed.
The nation's central bank imposed restrictions on withdrawals by individuals, but not by companies, said Ahmed Ismail, manager of the Abu Dhabi National Bank.
Anti-government protesters have said they will continue demonstrating until Mubarak steps down. But the embattled Mubarak, however, remained in his position as head of the party's higher council and as head of state despite popular demands that he relinquish power immediately.
Mubarak's son, Gamal, was among those who resigned from party posts, meaning that he is no longer eligible to take over after his father.
Mubarak has already announced he will not seek re-election in a September vote. Gamal Mubarak's resignation effectively puts to rest a widespread belief that the embattled president was preparing for a dynastic handover.
The United States has been mounting pressure on Mubarak to step aside. On Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking at a security conference in Germany, said it is "important to follow the transition process announced by the Egyptian government, actually headed by Vice President Omar Suleiman."
U.S. President Barack Obama, in phone calls with foreign leaders Saturday, emphasized the importance of an "orderly, peaceful transition" to a government that is "responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people."
The diplomatic official who delivered a message from the Obama administration to Egypt's leadership this week, however, said Mubarak "remains utterly critical in the days ahead as we sort our way toward the future" and must stay in office.
Changes are needed in Egypt to pave the way for a smooth transition, and "the president must stay in office in order to steer those changes through," said Frank Wisner, a former ambassador to Egypt. "It's his opportunity to write his own legacy."
U.S. officials emphasized that Wisner was speaking for himself, as an expert on the region, and not for the Obama administration.
Some demonstrators said the resignations within the ruling party were a "sedative" move by Mubarak to appease the people.
"This is just one silly attempt to calm down the street, but the regime is still there," said Sameh Bakri in the city of Suez. "They don't want to get straight to the point and resolve the real problem."
But Barak Barfi, a research fellow with New America Foundation, said an immediate departure by Mubarak could cause more harm than good.
"The problem that we have now is if Mubarak leaves, there could be complete chaos. The country could fall apart," Barfi said Sunday from Cairo. "It would be more beneficial for the democratic process if Mubarak could see through his term 'til September. Amendments to the constitution (could) be made, and a democratic process (could) be started."

The shakeup was announced almost two weeks into Egypt's tumult as thousands of demonstrators held their ground. Last week, deadly clashes broke out in Cairo between pro-Mubarak and anti-Mubarak demonstrators as Molotov cocktails and chunks of concrete flew through the air.
The justice minister announced that courts would reopen Sunday and the government eased its daily curfew, making the hours 7 p.m. to 6 a.m.
"We're in better shape," Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq said on state television. "And we can sense that day by day."
Interior Ministry spokesman Ismail Othman said the army would remain neutral, working only to prevent clashes and chaos between opposing groups.
Some opposition leaders said they had teamed up and called for Mubarak's immediate resignation and the right for peaceful demonstration.
Mohamed ElBaradei's National Association for Change and the Tagammu party's leader announced Saturday a newly formed opposition group of 10 people, including ElBaradei, Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Beltagy, and liberal Ghad party leader Ayman Nour.
"We have been in agreement right now that we'd probably have a presidential council of three members including somebody from the army," ElBaradei told CNN. "We have a caretaker government ... who would then run the country for a year, prepare the grounds for the necessary changes in the electoral process to ensure that we will have all what we need for a free and fair election."

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