Tag Archives: Muslim Brotherhood

Egypt has a new president…Mohammed Morsi

Islamist Morsi elected Egypt’s president

By MAGGIE MICHAEL and SARAH EL DEEB | Associated Press

CAIRO (AP) — Islamist Mohammed Morsi was declared the winner Sunday in Egypt’s first free presidential election in history, closing the tumultuous first phase of a democratic transition and opening a new struggle with the still-dominant military rulers who recently stripped the presidency of most of its powers.

In Tahrir Square, the birthplace of the uprising that ousted autocratic President Hosni Mubarak, joyous supporters of Morsi’sMuslim Brotherhood wept and kneeled on the ground in prayer when they heard the announcement on live television. They danced, set off fireworks and released doves in the air with Morsi’s picture attached in celebrations not seen in the square since Mubarak was forced out on Feb. 11, 2011.

Many are looking now to see whether Morsi will try to take on the military and wrestle back the powers they took from his office just one week ago. Thousands vowed to remain in Tahrir to demand that the ruling generals reverse their decision.

In his first televised speech, the 60-year old U.S.-trained engineer called on Egyptians to unite and tried to reassure minority Christians, who mostly backed Morsi’s rivalAhmed Shafiq because they feared Islamic rule.

He said he carries “a message of peace” to the world and pledged to preserve Egypt’s international accords, a reference to the peace deal with Israel.

He also paid tribute to nearly 900 protesters killed in last year’s uprising.

“I wouldn’t have been here between your hands as the first elected president without … the blood, the tears, and sacrifices of the martyrs,” he said.

In the lengthy and redundant speech, Morsi appeared to be struggling to compose his sentences. Wearing a blue suit and tie, he looked stiff and uncomfortable and did not smile throughout as he read from a paper. He was non-confrontational and did not mention the last-minute power grab by the ruling military, instead praising the armed forces.

The White House congratulated Morsi and urged him to advance national unity as he forms a new government. White House press secretary Jay Carney said Morsi’s victory is a milestone in Egypt’s transition to democracy after decades of authoritarian rule under Mubarak. The Obama administration had expressed no public preference in the presidential race.

Left on the sidelines of the political drama are the liberal and secular youth groups that drove the uprising against Mubarak, left to wonder whether Egypt has taken a step towards becoming an Islamist state. Some grudgingly supported Morsi in the face of Shafiq, who was Mubarak’s last prime minister, while others boycotted the vote.

Morsi will now have to reassure them that he represents the whole country, not just Islamists, and will face enormous challenges after security and the economy badly deteriorated in the transition period.

Pro-democracy leader Mohammed ElBaradei urged unity after the results were announced.

“It is time we work all as Egyptians as part of a national consensus to build Egypt that is based on freedom and social justice,” he wrote on his Twitter account.

The elections left the nation deeply polarized with one side backing Shafiq, who promised to provide stability and prevent Egypt from becoming a theocracy. Because of his military career, many saw him as the military’s preferred candidate.

In the other camp are those eager for democratic change and backers of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood who were persecuted, jailed and banned under Mubarak but now find themselves one of the two most powerful groups in Egypt.

The other power center is the ruling military council that took power after the uprising and is headed by Mubarak’s defense minister of 20 years.

Just one week ago, at the moment polls were closing in the presidential runoff, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) issued constitutional amendments that stripped the president’s office of most of its major powers. The ruling generals made themselves the final arbiters over the most pressing issues still complicating the transition— such as writing the constitution, legislating, passing the state budget— and granted military police broad powers to detain civilians.

“I am happy the Brotherhood won because now the revolution will continue on the street against both of them, the Brotherhood and the SCAF,” said Lobna Darwish, an activist who has boycotted the elections.

Also, a few days before that constitutional declaration, a court dissolved the freely elected parliament, which is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, leaving the military now in charge of legislating.

Brotherhood members and experts said the results were used a bargaining chip between the generals and the Brotherhood over the parameters of what appears to be a new power-sharing agreement. The country’s new constitution is not written and the authorities of the president are not clear.

This is the first time modern Egypt will be headed by an Islamist and by a freely elected civilian. The country’s last four presidents over the past six decades have all came from the ranks of the military.

“Congratulations because this means the end of the Mubarak state,” said Shady el-Ghazali Harb, a prominent activist who was among the leaders of the protests in January and February last year.

The results of the elections were delayed for four days amid accusations of manipulation and foul play by both sides, raising political tensions in Egypt to a fever pitch.

The delay plunged the country into nerve-wrecking anticipation and pushed tensions to a fever pitch. Parallel mass rallies by Shafiq and Morsi supporters were held in different parts of Cairo and cut-throat media attacks by supporters of both swarmed TV shows. In the hours before the announcement of the winner, the fear of new violence was palpable.

Heavy security was deployed around the country, especially outside state institutions, in anticipation of possible violence. Workers were sent home early from jobs, jewelry stores closed for fear of looting and many were stocking up on food and forming long lines at cash machines in case new troubles began.

Morsi narrowly defeated Shafiq with 51.7 percent of the vote versus 48.3, by a margin of only 800,000 votes, the election commission said. Turnout was 51 percent.

Farouk Sultan, the head of the commission, described the elections as “an important phase in the end of building our nascent democratic experience.”

Sultan went to pains to explain the more than 400 complaints presented by the two candidates challenging counting procedures and alleging attempts of rigging. It appeared to be an attempt to discredit claims that the election commission was biased in favor of Shafiq, the candidate perceived as backed by the military rulers.

The country is deeply divided between supporters of the Brotherhood, liberals and leftists who also decided to back them as a way to stand up to the military, and other secular forces that fear the domination of the Brotherhood, and grew critical of it in the past year. The small margin of victory for Morsi also sets him for a strong opposition from supporters of Shafiq, viewed as a representative of the old regime.

Naguib Sawiris, a Coptic Christian business tycoon who joined a liberal bloc in voicing opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood a day before the results were announced, said he expects the new president to send a reassuring message to Egypt’s Christian minority who represent around 10 percent of the population of 85 million.

“There are fears of imposing an Islamic state … where Christians don’t have same rights,” Sawiris told the private TV station CBC. Morsi “is required to prove the opposite. … We don’t want speeches or promises but in the coming period, it is about taking action. … He was not our choice but we are accepting it is a democratic choice.”

Hamdeen Sabahi, a leftist presidential candidate who came in a surprising third place in the first round of elections, asked Morsi to live up to his pledges to form a national coalition government and appoint presidential aides from different groups “that express the largest national consensus.”

Khaled Abdel-Hamid, a leading leftist politician, said Morsi must fight to get his powers back or he will lose any popular support he may have garnered.

“If he fights to get his power back, we will support him. But if he doesn’t fight back, then he is settling for siding with the military,” he said.

http://news.yahoo.com/islamist-morsi-elected-egypts-president-205842917.html

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Egypt’s democratic up hill battle

Top contenders fight to stay in Egypt election

Yasmine Saleh and Dina Zayed | Reuters

CAIRO (Reuters) – Three top contenders for Egypt’s presidency were scrambling to stay in the election race on Sunday after the authorities disqualified them on technical grounds, prompting one to say that a “major crisis” threatened the landmark vote.

The election is seen as the last step to democracy after more than a year of unstable army rule since Hosni Mubarak was overthrown by a street revolt. The generals are due to hand power to the new president by July 1 but the latest drama saw new accusations they were trying to prolong their influence.

Mubarak’s former spy chief Omar Suleiman drew an outcry from opponents of the old regime when he entered the race last week, only to be told late on Saturday that he had failed to secure enough signatures in one province to run.

Two leading Islamist candidates were also disqualified, one because he has a criminal record – dating from what was widely seen as a political trial under Mubarak – and the other because his mother had taken U.S. citizenship, state media said.

All three have 48 hours to appeal to the state election committeeagainst their exclusion. If their elimination is confirmed, it would redraw the electoral map just weeks before the vote gets under way in May.

“We will not give up our right to enter the presidential race,” said Murad Muhammed Ali, campaign manager for the Muslim Brotherhood‘s Khairat al-Shater, one of the three.

“There is an attempt by the old Mubarak regime to hijack the last stage of this transitional period and reproduce the old system of governance.”

The disqualifications add to the drama of a transition marked by spasms of violence and bitter political rivalries between Islamists, secular-minded reformists and remnants of the Mubarak order.

Shater, who became an immediate frontrunner after joining the election race in late March, was disqualified due to past criminal convictions. Brotherhood members were often jailed for their political activities under Mubarak, who excluded the movement from formal politics.

Anticipating Shater’s disqualification, the Brotherhood, which now dominates parliament following free elections held in the wake of Mubarak’s removal, had nominated Mohamed Mursi, head of its political party, as a reserve candidate.

VIOLATION

A lawyer for Salafi preacher Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, the most hardline of the various Islamists running for the post, said there would be a “a major crisis” now that his client was barred from the race.

On Friday, his supporters besieged the headquarters of the election commission, forcing it to evacuate the premises and suspend its work. Abu Ismail said the accusation that his mother held U.S. citizenship was fabricated by his political opponents.

“The presidential committee has violated all the rules of law,” Abu Ismail said in remarks published on his Facebook page. “If the official decision is to violate the constitution, they should be able to deal with the consequences.”

Military police and state security were guarding the headquarters of the election committee in Cairo on Sunday, state media reported.

Farouk Sultan, head of the presidential election commission, told Reuters a total of 10 of the 23 candidates had been disqualified.

Frontrunners still in the race include Amr Moussa, a former Arab League Secretary General and Egyptian foreign minister, and Abdul Moneim Abol Fotouh, who was expelled from the Brotherhood last year when he mounted his own presidential campaign.

In an interview with Reuters on Saturday, before his exclusion was announced, Suleiman said the domination of politics by the Brotherhood would hold the country back. But he said if he became president, the party could serve in his government and would be a vital part of Egyptian political life.

Suleiman, 74, said he was running for office in response to public demands for a counterweight to Islamist influence.

“This is why they sought me, as a balance between Islamists and civilian forces,” said Suleiman.

He describes himself as a devout Muslim but said that Egyptians fear their country is being turned into a theocracy.

The Brotherhood, in addition to dominating parliament, chairs an assembly that was formed to write a new constitution before a court suspended its activities last week. Liberal groups had walked out of the assembly, saying it failed to reflect Egypt’s diversity.

“Many people felt that the state is going to the Muslim Brotherhood – in parliament, in government and now the presidency,” Suleiman said, while conceding that the Brotherhood was “a very important segment of Egyptian society.”

 http://news.yahoo.com/top-contenders-fight-stay-egypt-election-162709675.html

Egypt’s Generals, Protesters Moving to Open Clash

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

CAIRO – Egypt‘s ruling military and protesters seeking greater and faster change are moving into an outright collision, as the generals try to strip away public support for the movement while cozying up to the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood.

Youth activists are not backing down, betting that Egyptians‘ dissatisfaction with the military’s running of the country will grow.

The generals, in power since the February ouster of longtime leaderHosni Mubarak, have launched an intensified media campaign against the protest activists, depicting them as a troublemaking minority and agents paid by foreign governments to grab power in an apparent attempt to turn the public against them. The message could have some appeal among Egyptians growing tired of continued unrest and fragile security.

At the same time, the military is cultivating ties with the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, which joined liberal and leftist youth in the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak but has since split with them on multiple issues. By cultivating the Brotherhood, the generals can take advantage of their large popular support base to counter the young protesters’ influence.

Maj. Gen. Mohammed al-Assar, a member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the body of generals that have taken over from Mubarak, praised the Brotherhood on Monday, saying they were playing a constructive role in post-Mubarak Egypt.

“Day by day, the Brotherhood are changing and are getting on a more moderate track,” he said in a speech in Washington at the United States Institute of Peace. “They have the willingness to share in the political life … they are sharing in good ways.”

The generals have also encouraged street protests by pro-military groups. Dozens of army supporters have held daily rallies the past two weeks in a square in northeastern Cairo, getting heavy TV coverage, aimed at counterbalancing a tent camp by the youth activists at Tahrir Square, the center of the anti-Mubarak uprising.

If the tension between the two camps boils over, it could plunge Egypt deeper into chaos, even sparking clashes. That could derail the country’s transition to democratic rule, a failure that could have wider implications on a region that is looking to Egypt to provide a role model for pro-democracy uprisings elsewhere in the Arab world.

A sign of the dangers came Saturday, when thousands of protesters made a peaceful march on the Defense Ministry in Cairo to push demands that police officers responsible for the killing of some 850 protesters during anti-Mubarak uprising be brought to justice and that military trials of civilian protesters be stopped. They were attacked by bands of men armed with sticks, knives and firebombs.

Hundreds of military police backed by anti-riot policemen stood by without intervening as the two sides fought for several hours. At least 300 people were wounded in the clashes.

The protest movement began to hike up pressure on the military earlier this month, launching their sit-in protest in Tahrir. One of their top demands is that the killers of protesters be brought to justice, but they also complain that the generals have mismanaged the transition to democratic rule, operating without transparency and dragging their feet in weeding out Mubarak loyalists from the judiciary, the civil service and the police force. Their ultimate fear is that the military will allow much of Mubarak’s authoritarian regime to stay in place.

The generals have countered by doing some revision of history, aiming to restore their longtime status as the ultimate authority in Egypt. For example, they have sought to depict themselves as equal partners with the Tahrir protesters in the popular uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak’s 29-year regime.

Over the weekend, the military took its rhetoric against the protesters into a dramatically higher gear. A military statement over the weekend accused a key youth group, April 6, of driving a wedge between the armed forces and Egyptians and of receiving foreign funding and training.

It also criticized “Kifaya,” or “Enough!”, a movement that emerged in 2004 and was the first in Egypt to publicly call for Mubarak’s removal and to oppose plans for his son Gamal to succeed him. One general said Kifaya was an “imported” movement, suggesting that it was created, financed and controlled by foreign powers.

Columnist Wael Kandil criticized the military’s comments Monday in the independent daily Al-Shorouq, warning that “we are now in the phase of burning the revolution.”

“The only thing left is to bring a tailor to take Mubarak’s measurements to make him a new set of suits for his triumphant return,” he wrote.

Activists from April 6 and Kifaya denied the military charges, accusing the generals of using Mubarak-era tactics.

The military has also been making a major media push. Numerous retired army generals have appeared on TV political talk shows as commentators in recent days, promoting the military council’s line.

This week, the host of one popular show, Dina Abdel-Rahman, was fired after repeated criticism of the military, including a sharp debate with one of the retired generals who called in to her show defending the military council.

Gamal Eid, a human rights lawyer, said her firing was a warning to others.

“Fear of the military is still great,” he said.

“I expect a clash between the two sides,” said analyst Hala Mustafa. “There exists a huge gap in their vision and tempo. Unlike the revolutionaries, the generals want to reform the system from within while they want to bring it down and build a new one in its place.”

A senior Brotherhood figure, Essam el-Erian, said the youth activists protesting against the military were trying to dominate Egypt’s politics but have failed to convince the majority of Egyptians.

He denied any growing ties between the Brotherhood and the military, saying they agree only on one issue — that elections should be held to transfer power to the people. The military has called for parliamentary and presidential elections to be held later this year, and the Brotherhood is expected to do well in the voting.

El-Erian warned that the alternative is a military coup.

“The military would tell us, ‘You go back home’, and they will manage the country. That would be a coup,” he told The Associated Press.

In the other camp, Mustafa Shawki, a key youth activist, acknowledged that smaller numbers have been showing up for Tahrir Square rallies. But he said the military’s continued mismanaging of the transition will fuel public discontent.

“We are at the end of the second wave of the revolution,” he said. “What will bring about the third wave of the revolution is the failure of the military council to bring about social justice. That will win back support for the revolutionaries that has currently been lost.”

http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2011/07/25/world/middleeast/AP-ML-Egypt.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1&ref=world


“Revolution Of The Young”

Egyptians pray for Mubarak to go now

By Dina Zayed and Shaimaa Fayed | Reuters

CAIRO (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of Egyptians prayed in Cairo’s Liberation Square on Friday for an immediate end to President Hosni Mubarak‘s 30-year rule, hoping a million more would join them in what they called the “Day of Departure”.

“Leave! Leave! Leave!” they chanted after bowing in prayer and listening to a cleric declare “We want the head of the regime removed”. He praised the “revolution of the young”.

The United States, long the ally and sponsor of the 82-year-old former general and his politically influential army, was also working behind the scenes to have him hand over power.

Mubarak says he is willing to retire but, having spent three decades portraying himself as a bulwark against radical Islam in the most populous Arab state, he has warned of chaos if he goes now.

Doubtless fuelling Western — and Israeli — concerns about the rise of the Islamist movement the Muslim Brotherhood in any free Egyptian election, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei hailed what he called an “Islamic liberation movement” across the Arab world, and urged Egypt’s army to turn on Israel.

In Cairo, where protesters have come from a mix of secular and religious inspiration, many joined in repeating the Muslim rallying call on Friday of “Allahu akbar!”, or God is greatest.

Reuters TV live Tahrir Square, click http://link.reuters.com/kuf87r

Mubarak interview with ABC, click http://link.reuters.com/red87r

Protest timeline http://link.reuters.com/zyc77r

For graphics, click http://r.reuters.com/nym77r

Insider TV, click http://link.reuters.com/caw77r

In Tahrir, or Liberation, Square, the focus of protests and of violent clashes with Mubarak loyalists in the previous two days, there was a festive atmosphere, with soldiers keeping order and the veteran defence minister, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, paying a visit and talking to his soldiers.

“Today is the last day, today is the last day!” protesters shouted as Arabic pop songs blared from a bank of speakers and military helicopters clattered overhead. Ambulances stood by.

One banner, in English for the benefit of the international television channels beaming out live, read: “Game over.”

ARMY OUT IN FORCE

Troops, out in greater numbers than in the previous week, strung barbed wire across streets and erected checkpoints, slowing people’s ability to get to the square. Once weekly prayers end at mosques across the country, protest leaders were hoping they could declare they had put a million on the streets.

The long-banned Brotherhood has sought to allay Western and Israeli concerns about its potential to take power in a free vote. A day after Mubarak’s new vice president broke ground by saying the Brotherhood was welcome to join a national dialogue, it said it would not seek the presidency.

Iran’s anti-Western, Islamic revolution of 1979 against the repressive, U.S.-funded shah has been cited by some in Israel and the West as a possible precedent for Egypt.

Khamenei, whose non-Arab, Shi’ite clergy represent a different branch of Islam from the mainly Sunni Arabs, praised those in Tunisia and now Egypt who had wrought dramatic change in the past month on autocratic regimes typical of the Arab world.

“The awakening of the Islamic Egyptian people is an Islamic liberation movement and I, in the name of the Iranian government, salute the Egyptian people and the Tunisian people,” Khamenei told worshippers at Friday prayers in Tehran.

Calling himself a “brother in religion” to the Arab people, he called on the Egyptian army to back the protesters and “focus its eyes on the Zionist enemy”. Cairo’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel has been a key component of the Jewish state’s security strategy.

GENERALS’ ROLE

The demonstrators, from across Egypt’s diverse 80 million population, hope to match the unprecedented turnout on the streets of the nation’s cities that they mobilised on Tuesday.

On that evening, Mubarak announced he would step down, but only in September, when a presidential election is due.

Though many Egyptians felt that was good enough, and hoped for a return to normality after the disruption which began on Jan. 25, many want Mubarak to leave immediately. The United States and its Western allies, while refraining from saying he must quit now, have urged him to begin the transition of power and move towards elections.

The armed forces, who have a crucial role to play, appear to be weighing their options, content to let demonstrators have their say in a way never before seen in Egypt. But they have not moved directly against Mubarak, and have allowed plain clothes loyalists to range the streets and attack protesters this week.

A senior U.S. official, who declined to be named, said on Thursday Washington was discussing with Egyptians different scenarios, including one in which Mubarak resigned immediately.

“That’s one scenario,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “There are a number of scenarios, but (it is) wrong to suggest we have discussed only one with the Egyptians.”

Mubarak, however, said he believed his country still needed him: “If I resign today, there will be chaos,” Mubarak, who has promised to step down in September, told U.S. television channel ABC. Commenting on the calls to resign, he said: “I don’t care what people say about me. Right now I care about my country.”

U.S. INTERVENTION

The New York Times cited U.S. officials and Arab diplomats as saying Washington was discussing a plan for Mubarak to hand over power to a transitional government headed by Vice President Omar Suleiman with the support of the Egyptian military.

It also quoted a senior Egyptian saying the constitution did not allow this. “That’s my technical answer,” he added. “My political answer is they should mind their own business.”

Suleiman also hinted at irritation with U.S. interference in a television interview on Thursday: “There are some abnormal ways by which foreign countries have intervened through press declarations and statements. This was very strange, given the friendly relations between us and them,” he said.

Many of the protesters reject Suleiman as an alternative.

Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League and former Egyptian foreign minister, said he believed Mubarak would hold on until September’s election. Then he added cautiously: “But there are extraordinary things happening, there’s chaos and perhaps he will take another decision.”

Moussa, spoken of by some as a possible successor, told France’s Europe 1 radio that he would consider standing.

The U.N. estimates 300 people have died in the unrest which was inspired in part by protests in Tunisia which forced Tunisian strongman Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to flee last month and which have since spread to other parts of the Middle East.

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/egyptians-pray-mubarak-now-20110204-035048-128.html

 


Mubarak’s exit….???

10s of thousands flood Cairo square demanding Egypt’s Mubarak go after fending off attackers

By Hamza Hendawi, The Associated Press | The Canadian Press

CAIRO – Tens of thousands packed central Cairo Friday, waving flags and singing the national anthem, emboldened in their campaign to oust President Hosni Mubarak after they repelled pro-regime attackers in two days of bloody street fights. The U.S. was pressing Egypt for an immediate start to democratic transition, including a proposal for Mubarak to step down immediately.
Thousands including families with children flowed over bridges across the Nile into Tahrir Square, a sign that they were not intimidated after fending off everything thrown at them by pro-Mubarak attackers — storms of hurled concrete, metal rebar and firebombs, fighters on horses and camels and automatic gunfire barrages.

In the wake of the violence, more detailed scenarios were beginning to emerge for a transition to democratic rule after Mubarak’s nearly 30-year authoritarian reign. The Obama administration said it was discussing several possibilities with Cairo — including one for Mubarak to leave office now and hand over power to a military-backed transition.

Protesters in the square held up signs reading “Now!”, massing around 100,000 in the largest gathering since the quarter-million who rallied Tuesday. They labelled Friday’s rally the “day of leaving,” the day they hope Mubarak will go.

Thousands prostrated themselves in the noon prayers, then immediately after uttering the prayer’s concluding “God’s peace and blessings be upon you,” they began chanting their message to Mubarak: “Leave! Leave! Leave!” A man sitting in a wheelchair was lifted — wheelchair and all — over the heads of the crowd and he pumped his arms in the air.

Those joining in passed through a series of beefed-up checkpoints by the military and the protesters themselves guarding the square. In the afternoon, a group of Mubarak supporters gathered in a square several blocks away and tried to move on Tahrir, banging with sticks on metal fences to raise an intimidating clamour. But protesters throwing rocks pushed them back.

The Arabic news network Al-Jazeera said a “gang of thugs” stormed its offices in continuation of attacks on journalists by regime supporters that erupted Thursday. It said the attackers burned the office and damaged equipement. The editor of the Muslim Brotherhood‘s website, Abdel-Galil el-Sharnoubi, told the AP that policemen stormed its office Friday morning and arrested 10 to 15 of its journalists. Also clashes with sticks and fists between pro- and anti-government demonstrators erupted in two towns in southernEgypt.

Various proposals for a post-Mubarak transition floated by the Americans, the regime and the protesters share some common ground, but with one elephant-sized difference: The protesters say nothing can be done before Mubarak leaves.

The 82-year-old president insists he will serve out the remaining seven months of his term to ensure a stable process. “You don’t understand the Egyptian culture and what would happen if I step down now,” Mubarak said he told President Barack Obama. He warned in an interview with ABC News that chaos would ensue.

But the Obama administration was in talks with top Egyptian officials about the possibility of Mubarak immediately resigning and handing over a military-backed transitional government headed by Vice-President Omar Suleiman.

Such a government would prepare the country for free and fair elections later this year, according to U.S. officials speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the continuing sensitive talks. The officials stressed that the United States isn’t seeking to impose a solution on Egypt but said the administration had made a judgment that Mubarak has to go soon if there is to be a peaceful resolution.

Suleiman has offered negotiations with all political forces, including the protest leaders and regime’s top foe the Muslim Brotherhood, over constitutional changes needed to ensure a free vote ahead of September presidential elections to replace Mubarak, who has promised not to run again.

Among them: provisions to ensure independent supervision of elections, a loosening of now suffocating restrictions on who can run for president and a term limit for the president.

Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, one of the leaders of the protest movement, lay out his scenario on Friday: a transitional government headed by a presidential council of two or three figures, including a military representative.

ElBaradei said he respects Suleiman as someone to negotiate with over the transition, but did not address whether he should have any presidential role.

The protesters in Tahrir have not seemed to have a unanimous view on Suleiman, a military man who was intelligence chief and Mubarak’s top aide until being elevated to vice-president last week. Some are willing to see him head any transitional government, others view him as too much of a regime figure and demand he go too.

ElBaradei repeated the protesters’ condition that Mubarak must leave immediately before there can be negotiations with the government over the nation’s future.

“He should hear the clear voice coming from the people and leave in dignity,” ElBaradei told a press conference. “The quicker he leaves in dignity the better it is for everybody.”

But he underlined that the protest movement is not seeking “retribution” or a complete purge. “Not everyone who worked with the regime should be eliminated,” he said. “There will be no severance with the history and past of Egypt.”

There were other potential difference with Suleiman’s scenario. ElBaradei said the constitutional changes must include greater freedom to form political parties, which now effectively need the approval of Mubarak’s ruling party. Protesters also demand the lifting of the emergency law in place for the entirety of Mubarak’s rule, giving security forces near unlimited powers.

Suleiman has mentioned neither issue, though he said the regime is willing to discuss far-reaching changes.

Another issue is timeframe. Suleiman spoke of completing constitutional changes by July to hold presidential elections in September. ElBaradei said that was not enough time to uproot a system that has ruled for decades through a monopoly on politics and widespread election fraud to ensure a proper vote.

“People are not stupid not to understand that this is not really a genuine desire to go for reform,” he said of the July/September schedule.

Instead, he said, the presidential council should rule for a year under a temporary constitution, during which time a permanent document would be drawn up and only afterwards elections held.

One self-professed potential candidate — Arab League chief Amr Moussa — appeared in the square Friday, his convoy greeted by chants of “we want you as president, we want you as president.” Moussa, previously a former foreign minister under Mubarak, has an elder statesman appeal for some Egyptians, boosted by the tough rhetoric he takes on Israel.

Asked earlier by France’s Europe 1 radio if he would consider a role in the transitional government or eventually running for president, Moussa replied, “Why say no?”

Another visitor to the square Friday: Egyptian Defence Minister Hussein Tantawi, who mingled with protesters and held friendly but heated discussions, telling them most of their demands have been met and they should go home. he was the highest level government figure to visit the square in more than 10 days of demonstrations.

At Tahrir, soldiers checked IDs to ensure those entering were not police in civilian clothes or ruling party members and performed body searches at the square’s entrances, a sign that Egypt’s most powerful institution was sanctioning the demonstration.

The atmosphere was peaceful after the 48 hours of violence between pro- and anti-Mubarak crowds battling with rains of rock and concrete torn from the street and shields fashioned out of sheet metal from a construction site. At least eight people were killed in the fighting and more than 800 injured. Gangs backing Mubarak attacked journalists and human rights activists across Cairo Thursday, while others were detained by soldiers.

The pro-Mubarak crowds that have attacked demonstrators and foreign journalists did not have a visible presence in Tahrir on Friday. On the other side of Cairo, dozens of regime supporters carrying machetes and sticks set up an impromptu checkpoint on the ring-road highway encircling the city of 18 million, stopping cars to inspect them and ask for IDs. The roadblock appeared to be looking for protesters heading to Tahrir. One of the armed men wore a sign around his neck reading, “We are sorry, Mr. President.”

In Tahrir, protesters formed their own cordon inside the military’s to perform a secondary check of IDs and bags. Many of those arriving brought fresh bread, water, fruit and other supplies, and the atmosphere was relaxed. Long lines formed at tables of people handing out tea and bread. Many waved the Egyptian flag or chatted amicably with the soldiers. Women in full face veils and enveloping robes stood close to women in blue jeans and tight tops.

Around the square were makeshift clinics, set up in the entranceways of stores, including a KFC. At one, a man received an injection in his arm. Above another was the sign of an interlocking crescent and cross.

Around 5,000 of the protesters prostrated themselves in prayer at noon. Though men and women prayed separately as is traditional, the women knelt in a block parallel to the men instead of behind them out of sight or in a separate area entirely as takes place in most Egyptian mosques. After uttering the concluding “God’s peace and blessings be upon you” of the prayer, they began the chant: “Leave! Leave! Leave!”

A number of celebrities of Egyptian cinema and TV joined the march, including Sherihan, a beloved screen beauty from the 1980s and early 1990s who largely disappeared from the public eye because of health issues. “This is really a popular revolution, it’s civilized and honourable,” she told Al-Jazeera TV.

“We’re calling on this to be the largest protest ever,” said Mahmoud Salem, a youth activist and blogger. “We are hoping it will be the last one.” He said that during Thursday’s turmoil, his car was attacked by regime supporters as he and four friends tried to deliver supplies to the square. He said the rioters relentlessly smashed the car windows and ripping off the side mirrors until he and his colleagues fled from the car.

“It was like a zombie movie,” he said.

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/activists-pour-tahrir-square-push-drive-mubarak-washington-20110204-021619-770.html