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Protesters in Cairo settle in for long stay

An Egyptian anti-government demonstrator carries a poster, referring to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, in Tahrir Square, the center of anti-government demonstrations, in Cairo, Egypt (AP)

By Reuters

Morning coffee is brewing on the wood fire outside Mohamed Awad's plastic sheeting shelter in Tahrir Square, the hub of the Egyptian protest movement demanding the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.

At a makeshift stall nearby he can buy a wide selection of newspapers to read over breakfast. After rare light rain overnight the sun is up, and sleepy heads are coming out of the blankets where they have spent another quiet night.

Mubarak supporters who attacked the protesters for three days with rocks and petrol bombs last week and charged them on camels and horses, have backed off. The Egyptian army is doing its usual thing -- not very much.

A hard core of protesters, backed by a broad popular movement which has brought millions out on the streets, say they are determined to stay in the square in central Cairo until Mubarak, after 30 years in office, gives up and leaves.

 They are settling down for the long haul, in some cases abandoning their former lives for a cause they believe in.

People have brought in more dumpsters for rubbish, one of them labelled "Headquarters of the National Democratic Party" -- the Mubarak party which has been a target of their anger.

Except for two quick trips home to Shubra in north Cairo, Awad has been in Tahrir Square most of the time since Jan. 28, the 'Day of Anger' when the protest movement made the transition from a small middle-class group into a broad-based wave.

"I'll be here till he goes," said Awad, who is 25, unemployed and has a bandage on his forehead, a badge of honour in Tahrir Square. The protesters want to rename it Martyrs Square in memory of the Egyptians who have died. The United Nations says as many as 300 people may have been killed. 

Osama Karrar, 42, organises trade fairs abroad and should have been in Ukraine on business this week. "I've given up everything to be here. I've travelled a lot and I have seen freedom and I want to see it here," he said.

"Of course I'm losing money, but that's nothing compared with the price of freedom," he added.

Yahya Haidar, a certified accountant in his 60s and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, is also deeply committed, opposed even to dialogue with Mubarak's vice president, Omar Suleiman, who has started talks with members of the opposition on a solution to the crisis.

"Dialogue is a waste of time, which is what the regime wants. We don't want Omar Suleiman. He's a military man who just gives orders. If he stays, we will stay," Haidar told Reuters.

The mood has grown increasingly festive as the danger of attack diminishes and the number of participants holds up.

Muslim-Christian unity was one of the themes on Sunday. Members of Egypt's Coptic Christian minority said mass in the square and many of the placards combined the Muslim crescent and the Christian cross. "Hand in hand" was a common chant.

The other theme was honour to the martyrs. People held up photographs of them and said special prayers for their souls.

Outside the enclave held by the protest movement, normal life is beginning to resume in the city of more than 15 million. The banks reopened on Sunday, along with some other businesses closed for the past 10 days. 

But not everyone is happy with the disruption. "Those kids in Tahrir are just a bunch of troublemakers and they are ruining business. They need to go home so we can get on with our lives," said a Christian money changer. He declined to give his name, saying he was frightened the Brotherhood would come to power.