Mubarak allies make concessions in bid to quell protests

McClatchy NewspapersFebruary 5, 2011 

CAIRO — Senior officials resigned from Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party on Saturday in the latest government shake-up aimed at quelling the sweeping pro-democracy movement that's demanded President Hosni Mubarak's resignation.

Mubarak remains Egypt's president and head of the party, at least for now, but his son and onetime heir apparent, Gamal, was among the party leaders who resigned, according to Egyptian state media. Under Egyptian political laws he's no longer eligible to run for president.

Along with the installation of a reform-minded liberal as the party's new head, the move represents the latest effort by Mubarak and his allies to pacify the protesters while allowing the all-powerful party to manage a political transition that the Obama administration and other allies insist must begin now.

It wasn't immediately clear whether the protesters — a wildly diverse group who range from young liberals organized via Facebook to Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood — would be swayed by the party's attempt to break with its past. The protesters, who have scheduled another major rally for Sunday in downtown Cairo's Tahrir Square, have said that nothing short of Mubarak's immediate resignation as head of state will bring an end to demonstrations that have paralyzed the country for 12 days.

Vice President Omar Suleiman met Saturday with opposition figures and Egyptian intellectuals for negotiations over a possible transition. Over the past two days the Obama administration has sketched out a scenario under which Mubarak would remain a figurehead leader but cede decision-making powers to Suleiman, Mubarak's longtime confidant and spy chief, by invoking a provision in the Egyptian constitution.

"The details of this transition will be worked by Egyptians," President Barack Obama said Friday. "And my understanding is that some discussions have begun."

Some protesters reacted positively to news of the resignations, which included the secretary-general of the party, Safwat El Sharif. Sharif will be replaced by Hossam Badrawi, a reformer and physician.

But many others dismissed it as a ploy by Mubarak's allies to peel off some opposition groups from the protest movement while increasing pressure on the protesters to call off their demonstrations. The Egyptian government moved Saturday to reestablish normal life in the capital, calling for banks to reopen Sunday and carting off some burned vehicles and other detritus from Tahrir Square left by last week's violent clashes between protesters and Mubarak loyalists.

Several protesters objected to the White House's preference for Suleiman, the longtime head of the notorious Mukhabarat security service, to lead the transition.

"This is a totally unacceptable idea," said Hossam Hamalawy, a prominent journalist and activist who's participated in the demonstrations. "(Suleiman) has always the No. 2 man in the regime. Nothing happens in the country without his and Mubarak's approval.

"He is very close to the Americans and to the Israelis…and it's out of the question that we will accept him as president or figurehead in the current regime, let alone pushing the transitional government."

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