Egypt in turmoil: Nation on the march
Power brokers join protesters in Cairo
Defiantly, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians put days of fear and violence behind them yesterday by occupying the centre of Cairo and driving away the dwindling gangs containing supporters of President Hosni Mubarak.
The regime had demanded they give up their protests, but instead the people spilt on to the streets in great numbers. And in what could give an insight into the country's immediate future, the throng was joined shortly before noon prayers by Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League and a former foreign minister.
Mr Moussa has ties to both the regime and to the kings and dictators of the Arab world. His mingling in the crowd demonstrated the president's increasing isolation. Mr Moussa, popular among Egyptians, could also emerge as a new player in discussions about a transition of power, and even a credible successor.
Defence minister Mohamed Tantawi also appeared in the crowd, becoming the first senior government official to do so.
Billed as the 'Day of Departure', it was largely a good-humoured affair -- in contrast to the vicious street fights seen around Tahrir Square on Wednesday and Thursday. "Mubarak, Mubarak, step down now," the crowds chanted.
As the call to prayer rang out across the city, hundreds of men formed orderly lines before the barriers of razor wire thrown up by the army along the roads leading into the square.
Behind them, a steady stream of people extended across the Qasr El-Nil Bridge, having dodged the bands of pro-regime supporters roving the city's streets. All those entering the square had to be frisked for weapons by lines of volunteers.
There was a much more noticeable presence of Muslim Brotherhood supporters than previously, at least until the afternoon when the square filled to the brim.
However, nearly the entire square joined in a dramatic noon prayer, prostrating themselves in unison in lines from the Egypt National Museum at one end to the Mugamma, the building that houses the feared Interior Ministry's bureaucracy, at the other. They also held funeral prayers in honour of the estimated 300 people who have died in the last 10 days' uprising.
There was still anger at the alleged role of the governing party in hiring the groups the protesters blamed for the earlier violence, as well as some pride in having beaten them off.
"Nero is burning his city again," read one placard held by Tariq Rafa, a lawyer. "We fought the enemy for 40 hours with stones," he said. "We say to Mubarak, if you are strong you will go now."
Mahdi Mohammed, a teacher, was standing in the square on Thursday when a shot felled and killed the man standing next to him, a lifelong friend.
"Hosni Mubarak has killed everything good in life," Mr Mohammed said. "The only language he understands is destruction."
Of Mr Mubarak himself there was no word. The Americans are still said to be trying to force him to stand down, and the EU warned of sanctions if there was any more violence. (© Daily Telegraph, London)