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February 01, 2011

Egyptian Opposition Accuses Mubarak of Sowing Violence

by Jerome Socolovsky

Egyptian opposition figures on Wednesday accused the government of allowing Cairo's central Tahrir square to be engulfed in violence. At the same time, they dismissed President Hosni Mubarak's promise not to seek reelection as meaningless.

Members of the Egyptian opposition met in downtown Cairo a day after Mr. Mubarak announced he will not run for president again. It was also a day after the liberal democratic Wafd party joined the coalition being led by former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohamed ElBaradei.

The meeting was held as throngs of pro-Mubarak protesters converged several blocks away on Tahrir square and began clashing with anti-government demonstrators.

Ayman Nour, a longtime dissident and former presidential candidate, accused government officials of deliberately sowing chaos on the streets.

"We demand that the officials responsible for removing security from the streets be held accountable for causing a security vacuum and terrorizing the Egyptian nation into feeling it had to choose between despotic rule or total chaos," said Ayman Nour.

Egyptian police disappeared from the streets last weekend, leading ordinarly Egyptians to form vigilante groups to defend their neighborhoods against looters.

Nour said Mr. Mubarak's announcement was not only nothing new - since he was already grooming his son Gamal as a successor - but was only making matters worse.

"With Mubarak remaining, he is the cause of the problem, he makes the situation much more tense," he said.

Nour said the opposition is willing to negotiate with Mr. Mubarak in power, as long as the negotiations are not conducted under his oversight.

Mr. Mubarak claims opposition parties have refused his call to discuss democratic reforms.

In his speech announcing his decision to step down, the Egyptian president said some political forces have instead stuck to their agendas without concern for Egypt and its people.

Another opposition figure, George Ishaq of the Kefaya movement, said Mr. Mubarak's announcement fell far short of the opposition's demands.

"It is one step, and our ambition is more than he says. And everything we are demanding, nothing happened," said Ishaq.

Protests have turned increasingly bloody since the uprising began on January 25.  The opposition is calling for another "day of rage" on the Muslim Sabbath this Friday.