January 29, 2011

Mubarak stays defiant, Obama calls for reforms

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt has refused to quit following unprecedented protests that rocked several cities in the Arab world's largest nation.

Instead, in his first statement since tens of thousands of Egyptians hit the streets to protest against his iron-rule, the president made his appearance to announce that he had dismissed his government and a new cabinet would be formed today.

Since protests began last Tuesday, following the Tunisian protest that forced President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to step down and flee the country on Jan 14, reports have indicated that at least 26 people have died with hundreds injured in clashes with Egypt's security forces.

Egyptians appear to have discarded their fear of direct confrontation with the security forces. The BBC reported that there have been bloody and drawn out clashes all over Cairo and in some of Egypt's main cities.

According to the BBC, tens of thousands took part in protests in Cairo, Suez, Alexandria and other cities. They set fire to the headquarters of the governing NDP party and besieged state TV and the foreign ministry.

Shortly after Mubarak's announcement, the BBC reported that US President Barack Obama said he had spoken at length with the Egyptian president and urged him to turn "a moment of volatility" into "a moment of promise".

President Obama is urging Egyptian authorities and protesters to refrain from violence, and said he told President Mubarak to address the population's legitimate grievances.

What some protesters say:

"We want a real democratic system. This regime of Hosni Mubarak has been in power for 30 years," declared Ahmed, a man in his 20s.

"I was unemployed for five years. I had to move to the United Arab Emirates. This is what I was dragged into. My son will not suffer what I have suffered. This ends here."

When you talk to people, they tell you economic reforms have not eased the poverty of Egypt's masses, education and social services are inadequate, and they complain of high levels of corruption and political stagnation.

"We are so furious. We must have change, better chances to work, to buy a flat and have just the life's basics," said a bank clerk clutching an Egyptian flag.

"What happened in Tunisia has changed things a bit. It knocked some sense into people."

Related stories:

Can Mubarak be toppled?

Analysis: Why Egypt matters

Demand for reforms in Jordan

Egypt after Mubarak: Liberalism, Islam, and Democracy in the Arab World (Princeton Studies in Muslim Politics)    Egypt on the Brink: From Nasser to Mubarak


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