Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak yesterday met the military commanders who could yet determine his future, as David Cameron and US President Barack Obama held talks and called for an “orderly transition” to a democratic government in Egypt.
Unprecedented street protests in Cairo and other cities continued for a sixth day yesterday, unabated by President Mubarak's appointment on Saturday of his intelligence chief and close ally Omar Suleiman as vice-president and — perhaps — his designated successor.
Downing Street said Mr Cameron and Mr Obama agreed that the Egyptian government must respond peacefully to the ongoing protests.
“The Prime Minister and President Obama were united in their view that Egypt now needed a comprehensive process of political reform, with an orderly, Egyptian-led transition leading to a government that responded to the grievances of the Egyptian people and to their aspirations for a democratic future,” said a No 10 spokeswoman.
As President Mubarak and his inner circle plotted their survival, opposition groups threw their support behind Mohamed ElBaradei, the former UN nuclear inspector, who returned to Cairo last week to offer himself as a figurehead for the protesters. Speaking in Tahrir Square last night, Mr ElBaradei — seen in some quarters as a possible interim leader should Mr Mubarak fall — said: “You have taken back your rights and what we have begun cannot go back.”
His speech was met with chants of “Down with Mubarak” by a crowd that disobeyed a curfew for a fourth night. “We have one main demand: the end of the regime and the beginning of a new stage, a new Egypt,” Mr ElBaradei said in his address.
The Egyptian President showed every sign of struggling to maintain his grip on power, as the US offered evacuation flights for its citizens still in the country and called on all Americans to consider leaving as soon as they could.
The Egyptian military reinforced its presence in the capital in an apparent show of strength, which included deploying military aircraft over Tahrir Square, where thousands of protesters again demanded that the 82-year-old president stand down.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who toured the Sunday talk shows in Washington, told Fox News that she wanted to see an “orderly transition ... that will bring about a democratic participatory government”.
Mr Mubarak meanwhile held talks with Mr Suleiman, his Defence Minister, Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the Chief of Staff, Sami al-Anan, and other senior commanders. Mr Suleiman's appointment has been seen as a belated acknowledgement that Mr Mubarak's son, Gamal, would be an unacceptable choice as the next president. Reuters reported protesters shouting: “Hosni Mubarak, Omar Suleiman, both of you are agents of the Americans.” Others chanted: “Mubarak, Mubarak, the plane awaits.”
More than 100 people are reported to have been killed so far, many in clashes with a deeply unpopular police force which was eventually ordered off the streets at the end of last week, with the army assuming greater control.