In Egypt, an opposition without a clear leader gathers in Tahrir Square, vowing to bring out 1 million people

The Egyptian government blocks Twitter after thousands of protesters took to the streets of Cairo to demand an end to the 30-year-rule of President Hosni Mubarak.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 1, 2011; 6:13 AM

CAIRO - Tens of thousands of protesters streamed into Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo Tuesday morning to demand the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, apparently not placated by the news that Mubarak's new deputy would meet with the political opposition.

Working-class men in scuffed shoes and worn cloth pants stood alongside women in full-face veils who chanted, "The people want to bring down the regime!" The Associated Press reported.

Army tanks and troops continued operate checkpoints around the square and throughout the city, and authorities closed streets and halted public transportation, AP said. But no clashes were reported.

The attempts to tamp down the protest came as a human rights group said it had confirmed an allegation that demonstrators have made for days: undercover police loyal to Mubarak's regime were among looters ransacking the city and stoking violence during the demonstrations.

Eight days after protesters--inspired by the successful overthrow of the Tunisian government--took to the streets of this proud Arab capital, Mubarak offered no sign that he is intending to step down, leaving questions about whether the decentralized and leaderless protest movement can muster the force necessary to topple this nation's deeply entrenched establishment.

Protesters have already accomplished far more than anyone here thought possible, forcing Mubarak to call out the army and focusing global attention on the president's autocratic 30-year reign. But unlike other successful democratic uprisings, this one lacks charismatic personalities and any clear agenda beyond ousting Mubarak and holding elections to choose a successor.

On Monday, Mubarak offered a gesture of conciliation, directing Vice President Omar Suleiman to begin talks with his opponents about changes to the country's constitution.

In an olive branch of its own, the military promised to guarantee "freedom of expression'' during a Tuesday's march, saying it recognizes "the legitimacy of the people's demands."

Opposition leaders, including Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace laureate and democracy advocate, have signaled that they are ready for such a dialogue. Demonstrators, however, say that the opposition leaders do not represent them and that they will be satisfied only with Mubarak's ouster. Appearing on state-run television to discuss his new role, Suleiman offered no details about the scope or timing of any talks.

The movement that rose up seemingly out of nowhere last week to pose the greatest challenge yet to the 82-year-old president has no name, no symbols and no formal infrastructure. Although some students and others are involved in organizing its direction, they deny being its leaders.

Protesters say the absence of a specific platform or a single dynamic figure has been critical to their success, allowing them to tap into Egyptians' widespread contempt for Mubarak without allowing the movement to become riven by factions.

"There are many talented people who could govern this country. As long as it's not Mubarak and his circle," said Ahmed Allam, a 31-year-old accountant, reflecting a sentiment that is broadly shared among demonstrators.

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