A ninth day of protests against the government of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak got underway Wednesday despite the longtime ruler’s promise not to run for reelection later this year.
Meanwhile, in continuing fallout from demands for change throughout the Arab world, the longtime leader of Yemen vowed to stand down from office before elections in 2013. President Ali Abdullah Saleh, under pressure from a boisterous coalition of relatively well-organized opposition groups, announced that neither he nor his son would stand for office and that he would pull back proposed constitutional changes that would make him ruler for life, according to news agencies.
“No to hereditary rule and no to life presidency,” Saleh told parliament, according to Agence France-Presse.
In the Egyptian capital, protesters spent another chilly night in Tahrir Square, some sleeping in tents that were a signal of determination to maintain a presence in the plaza that has become an icon of their movement.
By midmorning, hundreds of new arrivals had trekked to the square, but not in numbers nearly as large as the previous day, when hundreds of thousands flooded the country’s streets to demand Mubarak’s immediate departure.
Protest organizers appeared to be searching for ways to keep the crowd engaged and energized; what sounded like a very little boy led the crowd in a back-and-forth chant by megaphone. “Leave! Leave!” they chanted, in reference to Mubarak.
To keep warm after waking up, men began jogging around the square while chanting, “Down with Mubarak.” Others walked from encampment to encampment, offering tea and ful, a traditional Egyptian dish and made of beans.
Protesters have set up a large projection screen in the square where they can watch television channels, including Al Jazeera, which has been officially banned in Egypt and had some sources of its signal jammed.
The political upheaval, ignited by a popular uprising that drove Tunisian President Zine el Abidine ben Ali from power Jan. 14, has shaken the Arab world’s most populous nation and galvanized calls for change across the region, including in Jordan, Syria, Algeria, Sudan and Yemen.
A day before making his announcement, the Yemeni leader’s government approved emergency financial handouts for 500,000 families and reduced tuition payments for students in an effort to placate those angry over the economy. A large anti-government rally is scheduled in the Yemeni capital tomorrow.
But in Egypt, the continued political crisis, fueled in part by economic grievances, has exacerbated day-to-day difficulties for many ordinary people. Businesses in the city center, together with banks across the country, remained closed for a fourth day Wednesday. The cash crunch is intensifying, especially because the shutdown coincided with the month’s end, and almost no one has been able to lay hands on a paycheck.
The Egyptian army issued a statement Wednesday calling for a resumption of normal life.
“Can we walk in the streets safely?” an army spokesman said in a statement on state television. “Can we start working regularly? Can we accompany our kids to schools and universities? Can we open our shops, factories and clubs? … The Egyptian Army is calling on you, not by the authority of force, but by a desire to love Egypt.”
Nations all over the world have dispatched charter flights to evacuate their nationals from the country, draining Egypt of much-needed foreign currency. Tourism, an economic pillar in the nation of pyramids, has all but died.
Small bands of Mubarak’s supporters have also begun to take to the streets. They were confronted by anti-government demonstrators in Tahrir Square this morning in a standoff that was resolved peacefully, according to Al Jazeera. State television broadcast images of government supporters carrying Egyptian flags and vowing “love and support” for Mubarak, setting the stage for possible civil unrest.
In a televised address late Tuesday, Mubarak said he would stand down from office within months while implementing reforms and paving the way for a transition, but he ruled out going into exile like Ben Ali. His statement followed calls by the Obama administration to begin an orderly transfer of power. The U.S. provides Egypt annually with $2 billion in foreign aid.
Washington’s move against Mubarak enraged some Israelis, who see Mubarak as a bulwark against Islamic radicalism. Egypt is one of only two Arab states that host Israeli embassies.
“I think the Americans still haven’t realized the catastrophe they have plunged the Middle East into,” Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, a former Israeli defense minister, told Israeli army radio.