After 30 unbroken years as president of Egypt, it had seemed as if Hosni Mubarak's charmed career was finally coming to an end.
But yesterday Cairo's famous traffic jams were back. Businesses, shops and banks were open across the capital. Barack Obama spoke of the “progress” the Egyptian government was making towards reform. And though still in tens of thousands, the numbers at Tahrir Square were probably down on the previous day.
Meanwhile, Mr Mubarak, the great survivor, was using all the guile that has kept him in power for so long to produce a series of sweeteners — including a 15% pay rise for state employees — to widen his public support. He even held the first meeting of his new cabinet: the group he had hastily cobbled together as another means of staving off the end.
His regime was doing everything in its power to suggest that things were calm once more. In another conciliatory move, the regime released Wael Ghonim, a prominent youth activist involved in the protests and who was detained three days after they began.
But the increasing signs of normality in parts of Cairo yesterday belied a continuing stalemate between the two sides in the fortnight-old conflict. Even as the regime tried to suggest that it was back to business at usual, the protesters who remain in Tahrir Square angrily argued otherwise.
But there were also signs of splits within the negotiating committee that represents them. Some within the 25-strong ‘wise men’ group argued the protesters should take the regime's promises of reform at face value.
Naguib Sawiris, a business tycoon and one of the negotiators,
used a BBC interview to call on protesters to allow Mr Mubarak to stay until a clear mechanism for transition was in place.
Mr Sawiris said Mr Mubarak had lost his legitimacy but a big segment of the country did not want to see the president — a war hero — humiliated. He also warned protesters chaos could ensue along with increasing exploitation by religious movements, and possible moves by the army.
But several other representatives announced their intention to stand firm. Zyad Elelaiwy (32), a lawyer who is one of the online organisers and a member of the um
brella opposition group founded by Mohamed ElBaradei, told the New York Times there was a generational divide in the movement.
The older figures “are more close to negotiating, but they don't have access to the street”, Mr Elelaiwy said. “The people know us. They don't know them.”