Fearful protesters take first steps towards a new nation
Caged inside a new army cordon of riot-visored troops and coils of barbed wire - the very protection which Washington had demanded for the protesters of Tahrir Square - the tens of thousands of young Egyptians demanding Hosni Mubarak's overthrow on Friday took the first concrete political steps to create a new nation to replace the corrupt government which has ruled them for 30 years.
Sitting on filthy pavements, amid the garbage and broken stones of a week of street fighting, they have drawn up a list of 25 political personalities to negotiate for a new political leadership and a new constitution to replace Mubarak's crumbling regime.
They include Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League - himself a trusted Egyptian; the Nobel prize-winner Ahmed Zuwail, an Egyptian-American who has advised President Barack Obama; Mohamed Selim Al-Awa, a professor and author of Islamic studies who is close to the Muslim Brotherhood; and the president of the Wafd party, Said al-Badawi.
Other nominees for the committee, which was supposed to meet the Egyptian Vice-President, Omar Suleiman, within 24 hours, are Nagib Suez, a prominent Cairo businessman (involved in the very mobile phone systems shut down by Mubarak last week); Nabil al-Arabi, an Egyptian UN delegate; and even the heart surgeon Magdi Yacoub, who now lives in Cairo.
The committee's first tasks would be to draw up a new Egyptian constitution and an electoral system that would prevent the president-for-life swindle which Mubarak's fraudulent elections have created. Instead, Egyptian presidents would be limited to two consecutive terms of office, and the presidential term would be reduced from six to four years.
But no-one involved in this initiative has any doubts of the grim future that awaits them if their brave foray into practical politics fails. There was more sniping into Tahrir Square during the night - an engineer, a lawyer and another young man were killed - and plain-clothes police were again discovered in the square. There were further minor stone-throwing battles during the day, despite the vastly increased military presence, and most of the protesters fear that if they leave the square they will immediately be arrested, along with their families, by Mubarak's cruel state security apparatus.
The Egyptian writer Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, who is involved in the committee discussions, is fearful for himself. "We're safe as long as we have the square," he said to me on Saturday, urging me to publish his name as a symbol of the freedom he demands.
"If we lose the square, Mubarak will arrest all the opposition groups - and there will be police rule as never before. That's why we are fighting for our lives."
The state security police now have long lists of names of protesters who have given television interviews or been quoted in newspapers, Facebook postings and tweets.
The committee's talks would also cover civil and constitutional rights and a special clause to allow Suleiman to rule Egypt temporarily because "the President is unable to perform his duties".
Mubarak would be allowed to live privately in Egypt providing he played no part - publicly or covertly - in the political life of the country. He is regarded as a still-fierce opponent who will not hesitate to decapitate the opposition should he hang on to power.
"He is one of the old school, like Saddam and Arafat, who in the last two days has shown his true face," another committee supporter said yesterday. "He is the man behind the attacks on us and the shooting deaths."
Mohamed Fahmy knows what this means. His own father has been in exile from Egypt for seven years - after proposing identical protests to get rid of the Mubarak empire.