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By Vivian Salama, Ola Galal and Massoud A. Derhally
Jan 30, 2011 7:23 AM PT
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak met with top military commanders as tens of thousands of protesters defied a curfew and gathered in central Cairo, chanting slogans against the prime minister and vice president he just named.
“No Shafik, no Suleiman, we want you gone, you cowards!” the crowd chanted, in reference to yesterday’s appointments of former air force commander Ahmed Shafik as prime minister and Omar Suleiman, the country’s intelligence chief, as vice president. Fighter aircraft flew over the crowd and almost two dozen tanks could be seen in central Cairo.
The demonstrations followed a night of looting and gunfire as soldiers tried to regain control of streets lined with charred stores. The unrest was a sign that Mubarak’s appointment of the first vice president since his rise to power in 1981 and his naming of a new premier may not placate protesters as they put former military officers in the top three jobs.
The new officials won’t “be enough unless there is a real intention to have a real democracy established here,” Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris, chairman of Orascom Telecom Holding SAE, said in a phone interview.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that so far Mubarak has done “the bare beginning of what needs to happen.” She spoke today on ABC’s “This Week” program.
Middle East shares dropped with Dubai’s DFM General Index falling 4.3 percent, the most since May 25, at the close today. The Bloomberg GCC 200 Index lost 0.3 percent in Dubai. Egypt’s market was closed after sliding 16 percent last week.
“International investors are fleeing Middle East stock markets with justified risk aversion across the board,” said Mahdi Mattar, head of research at Abu Dhabi-based CAPM Investment PJSC, an investment banking company.
Mubarak met with Suleiman, the head of the army and the armed forces chief of staff today. He also visited the armed forces operations control center, state-run Al Masriya television reported. Suleiman met with the interior and defense ministers to discuss a plan to restore security, Al Masriya said.
As many as 150 people have been killed in the unrest, Ibrahim al-Zafarani, head of the rescue and emergency committee at the Arab medical union, told Al Jazeera television today.
“I don’t think that appointing Suleiman as vice president or Shafik as prime minister is going to do it,” Amr Hamzawy research director and senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said by telephone from Cairo. “It’s too late.”
In Cairo’s central Tahrir Square, tens of thousands of people gathered, with some chanting “the people want the president out.”
One person carrying a banner saying “The Army Must Chose Between Egypt and Mubarak.”
“The president appears to be trying to position the country in a way that if he leaves, the country is in the hands of the military and intelligence,” said Emad Gad, an analyst at the Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, a Cairo-based research firm. “He has to leave or the protests won’t stop. But the army will not remove the president.”
Looting escalated overnight into daybreak today, spreading from central Cairo to more upscale areas such as Heliopolis and Maadi after the police withdrew during the day. City residents called into Egyptian state television to report attacks by gangs of looters and ask for military assistance.
Shots rang out as the army sent in reinforcements and citizens armed themselves with sticks, bats and guns to protect their property.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said before meeting with his Cabinet today that he was “anxiously monitoring what is happening in Egypt.”
Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979 and is the Jewish state’s closest regional ally.
“The peace between Israel and Egypt has held for more than three decades and it is our goal to maintain these ties,” Netanyahu said.
The Israeli premier told the Cabinet he spoke last night with U.S. President Barack Obama and Clinton.
Israel’s benchmark TA-25 Index fell the most in 19 months, dropping 3.3 percent to 1288.62 at 2:56 p.m. Ampal-American Israel Corp., the owner of a stake in East Mediterranean Gas Co. which imports Egyptian gas into Israel, plunged 17.5 percent, the most in almost two years.
The protests in Egypt erupted on Jan. 25 inspired by a revolt in Tunisia that ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on Jan. 14.
Suleiman’s appointment is “Mubarak’s way of moving security to the top of agenda,” said Gad.
Suleiman has been mentioned by analysts, including the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit, as a possible successor to Mubarak, along with the leader’s politician son Gamal Mubarak. Suleiman leads Egypt’s efforts to mediate in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Mubarak hasn’t publicly said whether he’ll run for another term in this year’s election. Both he and his predecessor Anwar Sadat were vice presidents before ascending to the top job in the most populous Arab country. The president, a former air force commander, came to power after Islamist militants assassinated Sadat, in part because of making peace with Israel.
Demonstrators in Egypt say they want an end to corruption and repression and an improvement in living standards in the nation that relies on tourism, revenue from the Suez Canal and overseas investors for foreign currency.
“The people are not tired,” said Ahmed Salem, who has been demonstrating for the past four days. “The people are more persistent and will endure more than a ruler of 82 years of age.”