Egypt crisis: Mubarak stands firm but army won't crush protest
Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak hardened his stance yesterday in the face of continuing mass protest and made clear he had no intention of leaving office.
Mr Mubarak ordered the closure of railway lines and Egypt Air flights to prevent people flocking to "million-strong marches" planned for Cairo, the capital, and Alexandria today.
But the army moved to dispel fears of any military crackdown that he may be tempted to order. The armed forces said in a statement that they considered the protesters' demands "legitimate" and would not "resort to the use of force against the Egyptian people".
Western diplomats who have spoken to officials close to the president said they detected no sign that he might be willing to step down.
"President Mubarak still regards himself as playing a clear role in the future government of Egypt and he is not persuaded of the need to leave," one said.
The president has made some gestures in an effort to placate protesters, swearing in a new cabinet which included Mahmoud Wagdy al-Solaya, a general, to replace the hated interior minister, Habib al-Adly, who was sacked on Friday.
But his hopes that the appointment of a new vice-president and a show of military force would end the crisis were dashed yesterday.
Despite a palpable rise in the security presence and the return of some police to the streets, demonstrators showed no signs of giving in. Talat Sadat, the nephew of Anwar Sadat, the assassinated leader Mr Mubarak succeeded as president in 1981, predicted that action by the armed forces against their commander-in-chief was imminent. The army, he said, would soon put Mr Mubarak "in hospital, in prison, or on an aeroplane".
Sayed Abdulhalim Khatab, a 33-year-old stock exchange worker protesting in Cairo's Tahrir Square, said: "We can't go back now. He cannot give in because he is afraid we will kill him, but we think he will kill us."
Many protesters called on the West, particularly the US, to force Mr Mubarak, long seen as a linchpin of its security policy in the Middle East, to go.
Slogans on placards reflected the mounting sense of impatience with Mr Mubarak: "The people want the system down. Understand, you idiot." Despite their mounting frustration, western leaders have stopped short of demanding his resignation, fearing the possibility of anarchy as a result.
But there are also fears that Mr Mubarak is losing his opportunity for credible negotiations with secular opposition figures, and that more radical Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood could step into the vacuum. (© Daily Telegraph, London)