Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Wednesday displayed some of his capabilities in the war he is waging for his political future. After his dramatic announcement on Tuesday that he would end his 30-year rule in September, Mubarak's administration apparently decided that moves to appease public opinion and reduce the criticism against him were not enough.
On Wednesday afternoon thousands of people thronged to Tahrir Square to demonstrate in support of the president and his regime, calling on Mubarak to stay.
Shortly afterward clashes erupted between pro- and anti-Mubarak protesters. Fights broke out in the square and adjacent streets, as protesters on both sides used stones, sticks, swords and improvised shields, but no firearms.
The clashes only calmed down several hours later that night, after firebombs had been hurled from some buildings toward an army tank and at the president's opponents.
They did not stop completely even then. The Egyptian health ministry reported 403 people injured and a security man dead. Al Jazeera reported 750 people were injured. In the city of Damanhour protesters reportedly clashed with security forces.
In the last few days Mubarak's supporters and the security forces refrained from acting either openly or covertly against the masses demanding a revolution, not even in the guise of gang fights in the streets. The apparent decision to move the battle to the street may stem from a number of reasons.
First, opposition parties and factions are starting to disagree regarding the struggle's future and Mubarak's people are taking advantage of it.
Small secular organizations like the al-Wafd Party said yesterday they were willing to negotiate with regime representatives over the required reforms in Egypt to ensure the transfer of power. However, Mohamed ElBaradei and the Muslim Brotherhood stressed they would not talk to any government representative, including Vice President Omar Suleiman, until Mubarak's resignation.
Another reason could be the dwindling number of protesters in Tahrir Square after Tuesday's peak of a reported million people in the plaza.
Perhaps more than anything else, Mubarak feels he has reached the end of his tether. He does not want to be hounded by the masses and be driven out of his homeland. On Tuesday he said in his speech, "This is my country. This is where I lived, I fought and defended its land, sovereignty and interests, and I will die on its soil."
The big question is who the thousands of Mubarak supporters are. Al Jazeera alleged they were plainclothes security people tasked with dispersing the huge demonstration in the square, especially in view of the reduced number of demonstrators on Wednesday.
Other sources also suggested police detectives and security forces. But apart from undercover security men, who were the others? For example, Egypt's state television channel reported that the camel riders were laborers from the area around the Pyramids protesting the damage to their livelihood.
CNN reported that some of the demonstrators supporting Mubarak who were caught by regime opponents begged for their lives, saying they had been paid by the government to demonstrate in the square. Others were caught with security forces identity cards.
The Egyptian interior ministry denied this, saying these cards were false.
The army refrained for several hours from intervening in the clashes, strengthening the suspicion that Mubarak's regime is behind the near bloodbath in Cairo on Wednesday.
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