Egypt Braces For Major Friday Protests
Tomorrow could be a pivotal day in Egypt:
CAIRO — Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel laureate who has become a leading opponent of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, returned to Cairo on Thursday in an attempt to galvanize youth-led street protests that extended into a third day across the country.
Smoke rose over the city of Suez on Thursday as sometimes violent protests continued there. In the capital, a relative calm settled over the streets in anticipation of a new wave of demonstrations anticipated for Friday.
Raising the stakes, the Muslim Brotherhood, long the country’s largest organized opposition group, intends to end days of official inaction to enter fully into protests on Friday. On its Web site, the group said it would join “with all the national Egyptian forces, the Egyptian people, so that this coming Friday will be the general day of rage for the Egyptian nation.”
Mr. ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency who has sought to refashion himself as pro-democracy campaigner in his homeland, is viewed by some supporters as capable of uniting the country’s fractious opposition and offering an alternative to Mr. Mubarak’s authoritarian rule. Critics view him as an opportunist who has spent too little time in the country to take control of a movement which began without his leadership.
But his return adds a new element to the unrest in several big cities that has shaken assumptions that Mr. Mubarak’s security apparatus can keep a tight lid on popular protest.
Safwat el-Sherif, the secretary general of the ruling National Democratic Party, called for restraint from both security forces and protesters, and he raised the possibility of opening a dialogue with the young people who have powered the demonstrations. At the stock exchange, meanwhile, the benchmark Egyptian index fell to its lowest level in over two years, shedding more than 10 percentage points and forcing a brief suspension of trading, news reports said.
“It’s clear today that the inability to control the situation in the streets yesterday is panicking investors,” The Associated Press quoted Ahmed Hanafi, a broker with Guthour Trading, as saying. “The drop we saw yesterday is being repeated. At this rate, it’s going to continue to fall hard.”
Despite the ban issued Wednesday on public gatherings, organizers continued to use social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to prepare for Friday.
Possibly complicating the situation is the news that the Muslim Brotherhood will be joining tomorrow’s protests, and that the Obama Administration is prepared to openly denounce Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak if the police crackdown turns more violent.