Egypt’s government tried to get the nation back to work yesterday and people lined up in Cairo when banks opened for the first time in a week as protests to force Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to quit entered their 13th day.
Demonstrators camped out in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, which has become an epicenter for protest, vowed to intensify their battle to oust Mubarak, but the 82-year-old president has said he will stay until September elections because the alternative is chaos.
With some Egyptians keen for a return to normal after unrest that the UN says killed 300 people, the government has warned of the damage to political stability and the economy.
“We want people to go back to work and to get paid, and life to get back to normal,” army commander Hassan al-Roweny said.
The Egyptian pound opened weaker against the US dollar after the week-long bank closure.
“The pound started off down as widely expected, but not with the magnitude one would have thought,” one trader said.
The commander of the army, which many say holds the key to the nation’s future, was touring Tahrir Square to try to convince protesters, complaining about poverty, repression and corruption, to leave the usually busy intersection.
The US, Egypt’s ally, which provides the army with US$1.3 billion annually, has advocated the need for gradual change and political talks between the government and opposition groups on an orderly handover of power.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Saturday backed talks between Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman, a long-time intelligence chief, and opposition groups, saying the government’s dialogue with the opposition must be given time.
Suleiman met opposition groups yesterday in talks joined for the first time by the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s most organized opposition group.
“We have decided to engage in a round of dialogue to ascertain the seriousness of officials towards the demands of the people and their willingness to respond to them,” a spokesman for the banned Brotherhood told reporters on Saturday.
It is testimony to the ground protesters have gained that the government was willing to talk to the group, which would have been unthinkable before the protests started on Jan. 25.
However, opposition activists are concerned about any compromise that would see Mubarak hand over power to Suleiman, but also serve out his term — essentially relying on the old authoritarian system to pave the way to full civilian democracy.
“To hear ... that Mubarak should stay and lead the process of change, and that the process of change should essentially be led by his closest military adviser ... would be very, very disappointing,” opposition activist and Nobel Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei said.