Egypt’s armed forces yesterday told protesters clamoring for an end to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year-rule that their demands had been heard and they must clear the streets.
The army warning came as international pressure grew on Mubarak to quit and his closest ally, the US, told him bluntly that a political transition must begin immediately.
However, an opposition coalition called for the protests in Cairo’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square to continue. And crowds gathered in the square for a ninth day of protests, rejecting Mubarak’s promise on Tuesday that he would not stand in elections scheduled for September. They want him to go now.
A military spokesman, addressing the protesters on state television yesterday morning, said: “The army forces are calling on you. You began by going out to express your demands and you are the ones capable of restoring normal life.”
It was a clear call for protesters to leave the streets. And although the army had previously said the people had “legitimate demands” and soldiers would not open fire on them, it set up a possible confrontation if they failed to do so.
At the same time, curfew hours were eased. Internet services were also at least partially restored in Cairo, Internet users said.
Internet users celebrated the return of access, including estr4ng3d on Twitter: “Tweeting from the middle of Tahrir Sq. - internet is back in #Egypt #jan25.”
Meanwhile the ripple effect of the Egyptian uprising spread across the Middle East, with Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh saying yesterday he was ready to give up power in 2013.
Mubarak’s offer to step down in September was his latest gambit in a crisis that erupted last week as public frustration with corruption, oppression and economic hardship boiled over. At the weekend he reshuffled his Cabinet and promised reform but it was not enough for protesters. One million took to the streets of Egyptian cities on Tuesday calling for him to quit.
Retired diplomat and Nobel peace laureate Mohammed ElBaradei, who has emerged as a leading figure in an opposition coalition that includes the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, dismissed Mubarak’s latest move as a “trick.”
International backing for Mubarak, for three decades a stalwart of the West’s Middle East policy and styled as a bulwark against the spread of militant Islam, has crumbled as he tried to brazen out the crisis.
US President Barack Obama spoke to Mubarak for half an hour by telephone on Tuesday night after the 82-year-old strongman announced his plan to step down in September.
“What is clear and what I indicated tonight to President Mubarak is my belief that an orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful and it must begin now,” Obama said after speaking to him.
The conversation was frank and direct and left no doubt that “the time for transition is now, it can’t be put off,” a senior US official said in Washington.
Pressure also came from Turkey, where Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said Mubarak’s plan step down did not meet the people’s expectations and the change should begin sooner rather than later.
At least 1,500 people were in Tahrir Square again yesterday morning. Many had camped in tents and under blankets, determined to stay until Mubarak goes.
Banners measuring some 20m read: “The people demand the fall of the regime.” Many downtown shops remained closed.