With tens of thousands of supporters of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak swarming the banks of the Nile in their bid to take control of the Tahrir Square, the icon of the anti-Mubarak uprising, clashes broke out on Wednesday with protesters who were demanding the immediate exit of Mr. Mubarak.
Pro and anti-Mubarak supporters hurled rocks, pulled out from the pavements, at each other, injuring scores. Many were taken away with blood streaming down their faces. As the sun went down, Mr. Mubarak's supporters climbed on top of the surrounding buildings. From their vantage point they attacked, hurling a stream of rocks at the anti-Mubarak camp down below — a tactic which helped them gain ascendancy, setting the stage for the storming of the square and the physical rout of the anti-government protesters.
As the clashes intensified, pro-reform leader Mohamed ElBaradei said: “What is happening now is a crime against Egypt.”
Ironically, ignoring the mayhem around them, some of the President's supporters told The Hindu that they were supporting Mr. Mubarak because they feared the state of anarchy that the protesters at the square had brought upon their country.
The military in its tanks and on foot was deployed in strength on Wednesday before the clashes began. But as this correspondent witnessed, it took no concrete measures to separate the emotionally surcharged opposing camps. Coinciding with the show of strength by the President and the sudden surge in tensions that it had brought about, the military on Wednesday asked the protesters to leave the streets.
Analysts say the military, throughout the course of the uprising, has not confronted the protesters and in some cases, as witnessed on Tuesday at the square, facilitated peaceful protests. But neither did it abandon the President, who has emerged from within its ranks and was a celebrated war hero in the 1973 war against Israel. Riding ultimately on the support of the military which, observers say, has the paternalistic self-belief of guiding Egypt's destiny, Mr. Mubarak has so far managed to withstand the enormous pressure that the opposition has brought upon him to immediately resign.
In yet another signal that it believed it was back in control, the government has announced that stability would return soon. Banks, closed on account of the revolt, will open soon, pensioners will be paid and food prices lowered.
On Tuesday, Mr. Mubarak declared that he would stand down in September when the next presidential elections were due. Till then he would ensure that “measures are taken that guarantee the transition of power.”