Egypt offers concessions, but protesters stay put

In an interview with Bill O'Reilly on Sunday, President Barack Obama says Egypt is not going to go back to the way it was before pro-democracy protests roiled the country, and played down prospects the Muslim Brotherhood would take a major role in a new government. (Feb. 6)
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, February 7, 2011; 4:05 PM

CAIRO - The Egyptian government offered new concessions to the opposition Monday, but thousands of pro-democracy protesters maintained their vigil in this capital's central plaza to demand the departure of President Hosni Mubarak.

As the government sough to return Cairo to some semblance of normalcy, Mubarak met with cabinet members, part of his strategy to demonstrate that he's still in charge and that the government continues to function despite the protests.

Afterward, the government said salaries and pensions will be raised 15 percent, starting in April, for the 6 million people on Egypt's public payroll. The raises, estimated to cost $960 million, were aimed at reducing the popular anger that has fueled the two-week-old protests, unprecedented in Mubarak's nearly 30-year rule.

Later, authorities released an Egyptian executive of Google who had helped organize the anti-Mubarak demonstrations and who had disappeared on Jan. 28. Wael Ghonim, Google's head of marketing for the Middle East and North Africa, was freed Monday evening, according to Gamal Eid, director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights. He was believed to have been held by Egypt's state security services.

Eid said that most of the roughly 1,500 activists who were detained by the Egyptian secret police last week have since been released. But he said police continue to arrest selected individuals believed to play a leading role in the protests.

"Every day we get new names," Eid said.

In other moves intended to blunt public anger, state television reported that judicial officials would investigate three former government ministers and a senior ruling party official on corruption charges.

Banks, schools and shops reopened across Egypt starting Sunday, and traffic jams returned to Cairo's normally anarchic streets. But Egypt's stock market remained closed, with no prospect of opening for several more days.

Demonstrators organized a human chain to blockade the Mugamma, a huge administrative services building that borders the square and is a hated symbol of Egypt's suffocating bureaucracy. The crowd also fended off persistent but nonviolent attempts by the army to reclaim parts of the square, lying down in front of tanks to prevent them from closing in.

The demonstrators are calling for Mubarak to resign immediately and allow an interim government to lay the groundwork for free and open elections. Mubarak has said he will not seek reelection when his term is up this fall, but he has refused to give up power right away.

On Sunday, leaders of opposition parties began talks with government representatives about possibilities for reform and transition. The opposition leaders had earlier sided with the protesters camped out in Tahrir Square, refusing to meet with government representatives unless Mubarak stepped down.

The shift by opposition leaders followed the clearest signals yet from the Obama administration that its call for a quick transition in Egypt did not include a demand that Mubarak step aside before elections this fall.

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