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Crunch time as opposition holds mass protests

Video by Oliver FARRY

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2011-02-08

Amid government attempts to contain the popular uprising, Egyptian opposition groups have vowed to keep up the momentum to push President Hosni Mubarak from power, holding mass demonstrations to mark Day 15 of the uprising.

As Egyptian anti-government protests entered their third week Tuesday, protesters gathered on Cairo’s Tahrir Square for another big day of demonstrations as the stakes to keep the momentum of the protest movement increased amid government attempts to contain the uprising.

Protesters camped out on Cairo’s central square overnight Monday into Tuesday, vowing to eject Mubarak after the Egyptian government conceded little ground during Monday’s talks with the opposition.

Melissa Bell reports from Cairo

Reporting from Cairo, FRANCE 24’s correspondents said the army had being trying to inch the demonstrators out of Egypt’s symbolic Tahrir Square and get traffic moving again. With the renewed efforts to return the Egyptian capital to normal life, the protesters risked sliding into oblivion.

“They really need something big in order to make Cairo notice,” said a FRANCE 24 correspondent in Cairo. “It’s almost like the government’s plan here is to ignore them and then get the army to inch them out. They know it and they need some sort of impetus right now.”

Released Google executive reveals he was behind Facebook page

Tuesday’s demonstrations came hours after a Google Inc. executive was releas

ed Monday night after 12 days in detention.

Wael Ghonim, a Cairo-based marketing manager for the Internet company, said he was the administrator of the popular Facebook page, “We are all Khaled Said'' that was one of the main tools for starting the demonstrations on January 25.

A 28-year-old businessman from the coastal city of Alexandria, Said died after a beating by undercover police last year in a gruesome death that sparked demonstrations against the brutality of Egypt’s vast security apparatus.

Ghonim turned into a hero after his January 27 arrest and his popularity has increased following an emotional interview Monday night shortly after his release.

A new Facebook page in Arabic calling on Ghonim to be the “voice of the uprising” has received nearly 100,000 supporters.

“They’re going to try to make him a figurehead today because he gave a very impassioned speech about freedom,” said a FRANCE 24 correspondent in Cairo. “He has turned into a symbol of what the young Egypt is capable of.”

But in his Monday night interview, Ghonim warned against such a fate. "We want our country to change. I ask you, really, please don't turn me into a hero. I am not a hero, okay? I am not a hero. I am a very ordinary person. The heroes are the ones in the street,” he said.

Government makes concessions, but not the critical one

Ghonim’s release followed a morning of negotiations between opposition groups and Egyptian authorities.

Omar Suleiman, the country's newly appointed vice-president, began meeting with opposition groups on Sunday, including Egypt’s officially banned, but tolerated, Muslim Brotherhood.

A former spy chief and seasoned negotiator, Suleiman has been leading the government’s attempts to negotiate an end to the crisis as embattled President Mubarak has maintained a low profile over the past two weeks.

On Monday, the government announced a string of concessions, including a 15 per cent pay raise for Egypt’s public sector workers, who constitute nearly a quarter of the labour force.

While the government’s concessions were an obvious attempt to woo the Egyptian populace, opposition talks on the political situation had yielded few results, according to FRANCE 24’s correspondents in Cairo.

“The government has made concessions, but the concession that everyone says must be made first has not been made, which is that Hosni Mubarak must step down and be stripped off his powers,” said a FRANCE 24 correspondent.

In a statement from Suleiman's office released after Monday’s meeting, the government offered to form a committee to examine proposed constitutional amendments, open up the media and lift the country’s 30-year-old state of emergency - depending on the security situation.

But according to FRANCE 24 reporters in Cairo, none of the proposals were backed by concrete enforcement measures.

“The trouble is none of this is in concrete form yet,” said a FRANCE 24 reporter in Cairo. “Nothing has been passed, no laws have been changed and so opposition groups feel these are just words.”

Date created : 2011-02-08