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Cairenes seek normality, protesters vow to go on

Egypt's capital has become a divided city, one side gripped by protest and one in which people are desperate to return to ordinary life.
/ Source: Reuters

Egypt's capital has become a divided city, one side gripped by protest and one in which people are desperate to return to ordinary life.

Mass demonstrations to try to oust President Hosni Mubarak and then violent clashes between pro- and anti-government supporters in less than a square mile of Cairo's center have all but paralyzed parts of the rest of the sprawling metropolis.

"I can't work any more. Last night, one of my patients was in labor, and I couldn't reach her at all. For how long will this go on?" said Ahmed Naguib, a 48-year-old doctor.

The protesters say they will stay in Tahrir Square, a key traffic hub as well as the symbolic heart of the city on the Nile, until Mubarak is toppled and plan another mass demonstration on Friday, dubbed the Day of Departure, on Friday.

Supporters of the 82-year-old president, who has said he will step down at elections in September, charged on camels and horses toward protesters occupying the square on Wednesday before it descended into pitched battles between the two sides in which at least six were killed and approaching 1,000 wounded.

They too say they will not leave.

Even before the clashes, many private businesses -- banks, the stock exchange and shops -- had closed and army roadblocks made it harder to travel round a city of some 20 million that is almost totally reliant on cars and buses for travel.

At night, during the hours of curfew, vigilantes man makeshift checkpoints with machetes and sticks to try to protect their property and stop anyone they see as an enemy infiltrating protests.

"I can't carry on with my ordinary life. I can't even go to my dentist because his clinic is downtown. I want this to end so that I can go to work. It makes no difference to me now whether Mubarak stays or leaves. I just want to see security back on the streets so that I can go on with my life," said teacher Amira Hassan, 55.


Banks will reopen on Sunday, giving some hope of cash starting to flow once more.

Shop owner Mohyi Mahmoud, 57, said: "My shop is my life, and it's my only source of income. It's been closed for a week now, and even if I open it, no one will come and shop under those circumstances."

Vendors at tourist sites have seen business plummet. Tourists scrambled for flights to escape as soon as the protests began to build, and governments, airlines and tour operators worked together to fly out their nationals.

"The protests have brought my work to a standstill. My work depends on tourists, and there aren't any tourists coming anymore. Everyone is afraid. I want those protests to end now and even not tomorrow," said Ragab Abdel Hamid Mansour, 48, owner of a riverboat.

"I can't live. I can't even find a loaf of bread."

In Giza, near the pyramids, shopkeepers by shuttered storefronts said the unrest had strangled trade and many vigorously supported Mubarak, crediting him for security they said had helped draw millions of tourists to Egypt a year.

"We need peace," Fouad Hassan, 63, said as he stood outside his locked souvenir store. "People now are flying back home. How long will it take for these people to come back?"

For many state employees, like many Egyptians, their lives have been shaped by Mubarak and the apparatus of the state that has ruled with emergency law since 1981, when his predecessor was assassinated.

"I want Egypt's stability back, and that's why I want Hosni Mubarak to stay. He gave us stability," said Mohamed Abdel Razeq, 38, a state employee.

"My work has been closed since the protests broke out. I did not take part in any of the protests, but they are affecting my life. Tahrir Square is in the heart of Cairo, and it connects the entire city with each other, and that's why the protests make it difficult for anyone to move," Sayed Ibrahim, 41, another state employee, said.

Raga Mahmoud, a 35-year-old marketing executive, added: "Many of the people that are saying 'enough protests' are not pro-Mubarak.

"They just want security and life back. That is what I'm supporting because it's only for a few months."

In the square, the fight continued.

"I am willing to die here. I'll die as a man," said Mohamed Abdel Rahaman, 28, who earlier threw rocks at Mubarak loyalists standing on the 6th October bridge over the Nile.