Anti-Mubarak reformists and opposition figures hoped one million Egyptians would join the biggest protest to mark an uprising which erupted a week ago to force Mubarak to step down.
The disintegration of Mubarak’s power structure would usher in a new era in modern Egyptian history and reconfigure the geopolitical map of the Middle East, with huge ramifications for Washington and allies from Israel to oil giant Saudi Arabia.
The army, a powerful and respected force in Egypt, dealt a possibly fatal blow to the 82-year-old Mubarak on Monday night when it said troops would not open fire on protesters and that they had legitimate grievances and a right to peaceful protest.
Mubarak’s new vice president, Omar Suleiman, appointed to show the government was willing to bring in reforms, offered to open a dialogue with the opposition.
But the measure, along with the dismissal of his cabinet and the promise of reform, appeared to be too little, too late.
“There is nothing that we will accept from him other than he takes the plane and leaves,” said Ahmed Helmi, a 45-year-old lawyer, one of thousands of Egyptians flocking to Tahrir Square on Tuesday to try and to push Mubarak over the edge.
Mubarak has not addressed the nation since Friday, when he sacked his cabinet. On Monday, it was his newly appointed vice president, Omar Suleiman, who announced a call for dialogue with all political forces. Protesters scent victory.
“The revolution won’t accept Omar Suleiman, even for a transitional period. We went a new democratic leader,” said Mohamed Saber, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
“We are very patient, we can stay here a long time … For the last 30 years this regime brought the worst out of the people. Now everyone is speaking out. Before everyone was negative and passive,” said Mahmoud Ali, 42, a civil servant.
What will come after Mubarak if he steps down is not so clear. Egypt’s opposition has been fragmented and weakened under Mubarak. The Muslim Brotherhood has the biggest grassroots network with its health and other social charity projects.
The group, banned from politics under Mubarak, says it wants an Islamic, pluralistic and democratic state.
“Our country has many people capable of being president,” said Essam Kamel, 48, a lawyer, although he said he did not want Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, who has said he was ready to take on a role in the transition.
But Kamel added: “We are Muslims, but we don’t need an Islamic government.” Reuters