News / Middle East

Egyptians Flood Tahrir Square for Massive Protests

A soldier holds a crying girl from his armored vehicle just outside Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Feb 1, 2011
A soldier holds a crying girl from his armored vehicle just outside Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Feb 1, 2011

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Luis Ramirez

A huge crowd has gathered in central Cairo calling for President Hosni Mubarak to step down. The opposition has called for one million people to protest.

Crowds headed on foot for Cairo's Tahrir Square throughout the day Tuesday.  They included women with babies in strollers.

Their confidence is boosted after the army, in an official statement, described the demonstrations as legitimate and promised it would not fire on demonstrators. Army helicopters dropped leaflets calling on demonstrators to keep the protests peaceful.

The demonstrators' message is a clear one and their hopes are growing for changes in a country where the same man has ruled for nearly 30 years.

"We want to change the system, we want new alterations. The army must be with us, the army must be with us not against us. The army must be with us, not against us," said a protester.

The army enjoys respect among Egyptians, among other reasons because it has no history of attacking its own people.

It was unclear how soldiers might react if some of the demonstrators made good on their promises to march on the president's residence.

Train service remains suspended for a second day in a bid by the government to discourage demonstrators from coming to the capital to protest.  Internet service has been down since the first day of the protest more than a week ago.

The atmosphere in the early hours of Tuesday's anti-government rally was friendly.  It was a different scene from last Friday when scores of people were killed and hundreds injured in clashes with police.  Throughout the downtown area the scars remain, with some buildings burned and looted. The towering headquarters of Mr. Mubarak's party is now nothing more than a burnt hulk along the Nile River.

Across Cairo, hundreds of young men are manning checkpoints to prevent looting. One vigilante told VOA he wants to see change in his country but does not want it destroyed in the process.

A big question that remains is what kind of state will emerge, if and when, Mr. Mubarak leaves power.  Already there are disagreements within the opposition on whether Egypt should simply make democratic reforms or eventually become an Islamist state.  

Supporters of President Mubarak interviewed on the streets in Cairo called for him to stay in power. Hundreds gathered in support of Mr. Mubarak at a separate rally.

Thousands of foreigners as well as Egyptian nationals trying to leave Egypt remain stranded at Cairo's airport as airlines continue to cancel flights.

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