Egyptian protesters march 311.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Egypt's powerful military backed President Hosni Mubarak's plan to stay in office until September elections, but massive crowds outraged by his refusal to step down packed squares in Egypt's two biggest cities Cairo and Alexandria on Friday. They marched on Mubarak's presidential palaces and blockaded state television in a move against symbols of his authoritarian regime.
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Various media outlets reported that Mubarak had taken his family and fled Cairo, possibly to Sharm el-Sheikh.
The Armed Forces Supreme Council, a body of top generals, depicted itself as the champion of reform, promising to make sure Mubarak's leadership carries out promised change and lifts hated emergency laws immediately once protests end, an attempt to win over a population where the army is more trusted than politicians.
But its statement was a heavy blow to many protesters who called on the military to take action to push Mubarak out after he announced on state TV Thursday night that he would hand most of his powers to Vice President Omar Suleiman but remain in office. With the speech, Mubarak showed a blunt determination not to bend in the face of the biggest mass uprising in Egypt's history, now in its 18th day.
"What are you waiting for?" one protester yelled in the face of an army
officer outside Mubarak's main palace, Oruba, in northern Cairo, where a
crowd of demonstrators grew to more than 1,000. "Did you sign an oath
and pledge your allegiance to the president or the people?" another
shouted. The palace was protected by four tanks and rolls of
barbed wire, but soldiers did nothing to stop more people from joining
The marches on the palace were the first by protesters who for nearly
three weeks have centered their mass demonstrations in Cairo's downtown
Tahrir Square was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with a crowd that seemed
to rival the quarter-million figure of the biggest protests over the
past 18 days. More than 100,000 massed in the main square in Egypt's
second biggest city, Alexandria, on the Mediterranean. In the afternoon,
the giant crowd began marching towards Ras el-Tin Palace, Mubarak's
main residence in the city.
Anti-government protesters said they were more determined than ever, and
in the multiple demonstrations protesters continued to try to win
military support, chanting "the people and the army are one hand."
"Protesting and striking are fundamental rights and the most powerful
available means to bring down the regime, so let's be steadfast and
united. Right is above might we shall be victorious," Nobel Peace
laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, whose supporters are among the youth
activists organizing the protest movement, said in a Tweet on Friday.
More than 1,000 protesters formed a human barricade in front of the towering
building that houses state TV and radio, a pro-Mubarak bastion that has
aired constant commentary supporting him and dismissing the protests.
Tanks and barbed wire surrounded the building overlooking the Nile
River, but troops did not keep protesters away, or to stop them as they
blocked employees from entering the building.
Others massed outside the Cabinet and parliament buildings, both largely empty, several blocks from Tahrir.
The military statement, labeled "Communique No. 2" after a statement a
day earlier, endorsed Mubarak's plan to transfer some powers to Omar
But it said it would make sure that Mubarak and Suleiman — both military
men — stuck to their promises. The armed forces, it said, "are
committed to shepherding the legitimate demands of the people and to
work for their implementation within a defined timetable until achieving
a peaceful transition all through a democratic society."