The President has appointed two of his followers at the head of state. Amid protests that have shaken the foundations of the state, the Egyptian president has hinted Saturday that he was preparing his succession perhaps by appointing a vice-president for the first time in thirty years of exercising power. By choosing the intelligence chief Omar Suleiman to become his "number two", Hosni Mubarak has taken an initiative to revitalize own speculation about the presidential election scheduled for September, which the old rais, age 82, could not be present.
No one can yet know if it will be able to stay in power until then. For many, the army holds the key to the political future of Egypt. The Egyptian president, who had expressed an intention to change the government in a speech Friday night, Saturday was also appointed as Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik, former commander of the Air Force and outgoing Minister of Aviation, which is charged with forming a new government. Before the five days of unprecedented unrest that comes from living the country, officials suggested that Mubarak will seek a new mandate. Many Egyptians believed that without him, his son Gamal, 47, could be a candidate. That now seems impossible.
Vacant since 1981
The vice president has been vacant since the arrival of Mubarak to lead the country in 1981 after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat. Suleiman, 74, has long been a key figure in the politics of Cairo, particularly as regards the peace process between Israel and Palestine, crucial issue in Egyptian-US relations. Some protesters expressed dissatisfaction with a decision that appears designed to maintain power in the hands of the army and security bodies.
"It is like Mubarak, there is no change," said one protester outside the Ministry of Interior, where thousands of Egyptians protesting. Chafik's appointment, former head of the Air Force as Mubarak also appears to reflect the desire to respond to demands for change of opinion by limited replacement of personnel policy. The decision to sack the government announced yesterday by Mubarak made no noticeable impression on the demonstrators.
No plans for early elections
Parliament Speaker Fathi Sorour said Saturday that there were no plans for early elections. For some, however, appointed Suleiman as his right arm Official Mubarak is a relief in a context where millions of people watched anxiously security disintegrate in the country, rioters tore portraits of Mubarak and torching government buildings . "I'm happy. I think that's a change and that people will be satisfied. They wanted something they want to feel they can change things," confided Effat Abdul-Hamid, a private security guard.
Analysts said Mubarak seems to have realized for the first time the magnitude of the uprising which Egypt - the country's most populous Arab world - is the theater. "It's certainly better than nothing, this suggests that the system takes things more seriously and measures the severity of the situation. The old promises of reform and economic change will not work," said Shadi Hamid, Director Research at the Brookings Doha Center.
The army does not shoot
In the streets of Cairo, the soldiers pushed Saturday protesters attacked a government building. But elsewhere in the capital, the army did not intervene against the people though they warned would be in danger if they stayed out between 16 hours and 8 hours. A group of about fifty people approached a military checkpoint, waving a sign that read "The army and people together." Soldiers removed a fence and missed the group. "There is a curfew, but the army does not shoot at anyone," said one lieutenant.
Several thousand people have returned Saturday Tahrir Square, the epicenter of protest in central Cairo, whose army had regained control last night. They called again the president's departure. In the evening, residents of affluent neighborhoods in the capital reported the presence of military vehicles deployed to protect and ensure the safety of five star hotels. Witnesses reported looting and arson.
The "Berlin moment" in the Arab world?
A source within the security services also claimed that incidents had occurred in the prison of Abu Zaabal, north-east of Cairo, where inmates tried to escape. Their attempt was thwarted but the record made by this source is 8 dead and 123 wounded. The Ministry of Defence has again called the people to respect the curfew. If the police are often feared as an instrument of repression, the army is considered a national institution.
In Alexandria, the police used live ammunition and tear gas during the day against thousands of demonstrators. Clashes also erupted in Suez, the terminal is near the famous canal. According to a tally compiled from figures provided by medical sources and witnesses, at least 74 people died in Egypt since the start of the protest movement last Tuesday, including 68 for single day on Friday in Cairo, Suez and Alexandria.
So far the protest seems to have no identifiable leader or organization. Mohamed ElBaradei, Nobel Peace Prize 2005 and former Director General of IAEA, has returned to Egypt to join the demonstrations against Mubarak, but many of his countrymen believe that he spent too much time outside the country. For Fawaz Gerges, London School of Economics, the movement has changed the situation in the Middle East: "This is the 'time in Berlin, the Arab world. The wall of authoritarianism collapsed, regardless of Mubarak survived or not. It's really the beginning of the end of the status quo in the region. "