Egypt has changed forever, says Obama as crisis continues (Second Lead)

Monday, February 7, 2011

CAIRO/WASHINGTON - Traffic resumed and some businesses reopened hesitatingly but protesters maintained their vigil in Cairo’s Tahrir Square Monday as the uprising to oust Hosni Mubarak entered its 14th day amid reports that a Google executive who went missing 10 days ago could be released. US President Barack Obama said he believed Egypt had changed forever.

Hundreds of protesters camped through the night at the public square, which has been focal point of demonstrations against President Mubarak and his 30-year uninterrupted rule. Mubarak, who has ruled since 1981, has said he is ready to quit, but not now.

Though protests were continuing at the square, the reopening of business establishments in other parts of the city brought some semblance of normalcy to the capital. Traffic in the streets too was increasing.

“There’s a lot of popular public sentiment in Cairo and wider Egypt regarding what those protesters are trying to achieve but at the same time, people are trying to get back to live as normal lives as possible,” said an Al Jazeera correspondent.

“But some of the shopping malls for example are still closed because they’re afraid of looting, and the banks yesterday were only open for a few hours.”

Protesters were upbeat after the news broke out that political activist Wael Ghonim, who is Google’s top executive in the Middle East, was going to be released Monday, Wall Street Journal reported.

The protest organisers at downtown Cairo’s Tahrir Square adopted him as a symbolic leader. Ghonim is considered to be part of a small group of political activists in Egypt whose online efforts helped spark the ongoing demonstrations.

“They (the authorities) told us they’ll probably bring him to us, and that he will likely be escorted by security,” Ghonim’s brother, Hazem, was quoted as saying.

Naguib Sawiris, a billionaire businessman, said that Egypt’s Vice President Omar Suleiman told him that Ghonim would be released.

“The boy is a hero. When he is released he will become the living hero of this revolution,” Sawiris said.

The US kept up its pressure to find an early resolution to the ongoing crisis.

US President Barack Obama said that he believed that Egypt had changed forever.

In an interview with Fox News Sunday, Obama stopped short of saying when - or if - Mubarak would step down.

“Only he knows what he’s going to do,” he said.

“Egypt is not going to go back to what it was,” he said. “The Egyptian people want freedom, they want free and fair elections, they want a representative government, they want a responsive government. And so, what we’ve said is you have to start a transition now…”

Though Mubarak has refused to quit, the government made efforts to negotiate with the long banned Muslim Brotherhood following increasing pressure from US President Barack Obama and other global leader.

Muslim Brotherhood, which has been banned since 1954 after being convicted of plotting to kill then president Gamal Abdel Nasser, held talks Sunday with the government.

The group said it was just a beginning they also insisted that no substantive concessions had been offered. Some committees were formed to look into core demands, DPA reported.

Salma El-Tarzi, who was at Tahrir Square, said she was indifferent to the talks.

“The political parties can do whatever they please because they don’t represent us,” she was quoted as saying.

“This is not a revolution made by the parties. The parties have been there for 30 years and they’ve done nothing. This is the people’s revolution.”

Amid the unrest, the Egyptian foreign ministry accused a number of diplomatic missions of attempting to smuggle weapons and special communication equipment into the country, RIA Novosti quoted the Youm7 web portal as reporting Monday.

The ministry alleged that in the past two weeks there have been repeated attempts to bring in weapons and special equipment in diplomatic bags, which are not usually inspected.

It did not name the countries involved, nor did it specify the kind of weapons or special communications equipment they had attempted to smuggle in.

The unrest which began in Egypt Jan 25 has left some 300 people dead and caused massive damage to the North African state’s economy.

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