Local media says Egyptian Defence Minister has joined protesters

The former International Atomic Energy Agency chief-turned-reformist leader, Mohamed ElBaradei, on Sunday appeared to be fast emerging as the new political face of the Egyptian uprising, as the regime of President Hosni Mubarak seemed fractured despite its desperate attempt to project a united front.

By evening on Sunday, opposition parties, including the banned Muslim Brotherhood, endorsed Mr. ElBaradei as their representative in future negotiations for change in anticipation of Mr. Mubarak's early exit from the political scene. “Political groups support ElBaradei to negotiate with the regime,” Essam el-Eryan, a senior Muslim Brotherhood leader, was quoted as saying.

Egyptian daily Al Masri Al Youm posted on its web site that the combined opposition groups had asked Mr. ElBaradei to lead talks to form a transitional government. The daily, attributing the statement to the Democratic Front Party, said that following Mr. Mubarak's “imminent departure,” Mr. ElBaradei should lead negotiations on future economic and social reforms and issues related to the release of detenus and the lifting of emergency rule, which has now lasted 30 years.

Meanwhile, Mr. Mubarak's attempts to project a united administration packed with hardline personnel from the security establishment appeared short-lived. On Saturday, he appointed Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force chief, and Omar Suleiman, the long serving intelligence head, as Vice-President.

But cracks in the establishment appeared to have visibly widened on Sunday, with local media reporting that Mohamed Tantawi, Minister of Defence, had joined protesters at Tahrir Square. Mr. Tantawi is also the Commander-in-Chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces.

Despite their focus on the country's political future, the protesters continued to confront organised looting, which has targeted residential colonies, institutions and repositories of Egyptian antiquity. Opposition leader Ayman Nour of the Ghad Party said the looting was state-sponsored and blamed Interior Ministry personnel.

On Friday night, nine convicts vandalised the Egyptian Museum overlooking the Tahrir Square, which included an attempt to steal two mummies. “The regime is trying to project the worst image possible to make it clear to people that they have only one of two alternatives: the existing order, or chaos,” Mr. Nour said.

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