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03 March 2024

Egypt protests enter third defiant week

Anti-government protesters sing while under makeshift tenting in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt. Almost two weeks since the protests began, thousands of demonstrators continue to occupy the square, demanding the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. (GETTY IMAGES)


Egypt's anti-regime protests entered their third week Tuesday with thousands of demonstrators still camped out in Cairo's main square demanding the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.

They passed a cold night under blankets and the tracks of the army tanks that form a perimeter around Tahrir Square, but were determined to press on with their campaign, many of them chanting slogans as the sun rose.

"I've been here for five days, and my family is coming today," smiled Mohammed Ali, a 47-year-old engineer from Fayoum south of the capital, as he sat by the square with friend thumbing through the morning papers.

"We will stay until Mubarak goes," he declared, as the protests entered their 15th day and the occupation of the square its 12th.

Behind him hundreds of the square's daily visitors filed through checkpoints manned by well-armed Egyptian troops, who search for weapons but do nothing to prevent supporters from supplying the vigil with food and medicine.

Inside the military cordon, which is backed by squadrons of tanks, lines of volunteers from the protesters' popular committees perform a second search and identity check to protect against police spies or provocateurs.

"Patriotic songs about the country used to sound exaggerated, but we own the country now," said 34-year-old doctor Issam Shebana, who travelled back from Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates to man a makeshift open-air clinic.

"Yesterday, one man in his 60s said: 'We were cowards. We kept quiet all these years, but you've done it.' It's inspiring. It's a rebirth," he said. "I never thought I'd sleep on asphalt with rain on my face and feel happy."

Shebana and a colleague, 24-year-old Doctor Mohammed Imed, said they had not treated any wounds from unrest for two days but that colds and flu were spreading among the population sleeping rough under plastic sheeting.

There has been little in the way of gastroenteritis or dysentery, however, as the protesters are trying to keep the square clean and well-wishers are bringing a steady stream of good food.

"Every day they give us concessions, a little bit more, and eventually they'll have nothing left," Shebana said of Mubarak's embattled government, which has invited opposition groups to help it draft constitutional reform.

"Mubarak must leave, then parliament goes, then cabinet goes. We want an interim government to supervise elections. Then the people will leave the square, but if the government cheats, we will come back," he said.

Nearby a small boy of no more than four years old sat on his father's shoulders surrounded by a few hundred young men. The infant lead the chant, demanding Mubarak go, and the crowd roared in response.