Many backgrounds but protesters have one goal

The widespread protests that began against the regime of President Hosni Mubarak have spread in the last few days to encompass almost an entire people.

It now includes not only the stone-throwing youths who huddled in the fog of teargas below the underpasses near the centre of Cairo, or charged police on the Nile bridges, but Egyptians from all walks of life.

Old and young, the middle classes and the urban poor. Those who didn't take to the streets waved from their balconies or threw water bottles and onions to the crowd below to be used against tear gas. Others handed out paper facemasks for the same purpose.

Down below, the protesters carried signs that said “game over” and wrapped themselves in Egyptian flags. Those driving or on motorbikes sounded their horns.

In the city centre, at a tiny mosque in a side alley, before the protest started the men came for Friday prayers to hear a message that set the tone at first in a man's sermon. “No one has the right to control you save for god,” he said over the loud speaker. “You have the right to speak out, only do it peacefully.”

In the march that began in Muhand aiming to walk to the city centre Tahrir Square, the same message was delivered.

Among the thousands were doctors in white coats, students and professors, those working for NGOs, housewives and children, hotel and shopkeepers.

For what is extraordinary is how this mass movement has all of a sudden united Egypt against a single figure — Mubarak — forging an unexpected alliance of members of the Muslim Brotherhood with those who do not share those Islamist views, union members and activists and those whose politics are only defined by wanting something else, many of them united by the ad hoc networks of social media that have fuelled Egypt's fiercest protests for years.

Call for reform

“I'm here because I support it,” said Muhamad Fakhri, a 52-year-old university professor outside the mosque where the march began. “I don't support any of the opposition leaders. All I want is reform. I'm here because I can see Egyptian people have reached the moment when they must choose. Because people are crushed by the prices of food, because of unemployment, because people should have freedom and democracy. I came to express my opinion against what I believe this government is doing wrong.” The police lined up to block the route of the march, protesters stepped forward to appeal with the officers to engage them in conversation and asked them to join what has been done Egypt's day of freedom and anger.

A middle-aged employee of a large charity who asked not to be identified, said: “The reason I am here is to join the revolution”, as he marched along the banks of the Nile after the column of protestors had been hit by gas canisters thrown at them by police on a motorway bridge they were holding. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011