Thousands Of Protesters Dig In Their Heels In Cairo Thousands of protesters remained camped in Tahrir Square, demanding that President Hosni Mubarak step down. The government's pledges to investigate election fraud, release detainees and lift media restrictions have failed to sway the opposition. Human Rights Watch estimates that 297 have been killed since the protests began.
NPR logo Thousands Of Protesters Dig In Their Heels In Cairo

Thousands Of Protesters Dig In Their Heels In Cairo

A young anti-government demonstrator holds a national flag in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Monday, the 14th day of protests calling for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images

A young anti-government demonstrator holds a national flag in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Monday, the 14th day of protests calling for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images

Thousands of protesters remained camped in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Monday, showing no signs of easing pressure on President Hosni Mubarak's regime and shrugging off the latest round of government concessions.

Egypt's state-run news agency said Mubarak had ordered Parliament and its highest appellate court to re-examine lower court rulings disqualifying hundreds of ruling party lawmakers for campaign and ballot irregularities — infractions that election officials had ignored. Later, the country's newly appointed finance minister said government employees would receive a 15 percent salary raise to take effect in April.

Heard On NPR

The government also met with opposition groups Sunday and promised to lift restrictions on the media and to release detained protesters. On Monday, Google announced that a company executive who was one of the most prominent youth organizers had been freed. Wael Ghonim, a marketing manager for the Internet company, was seized by security agents on Jan. 28.

'All Of These Are Brittle Decisions'

But the compromises have failed to satisfy anti-government protesters, who have insisted since demonstrations began Jan. 25 that nothing short of seeing the backs of Mubarak and his entire Cabinet would be acceptable.

"As long as Mubarak is in charge, then all of these are brittle decisions that can break at any moment," said Salih Abdel-Aziz, an engineer with a public sector company.

In Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the protest movement, demonstrators had set up a tent camp and brought in food and entertainment, such as strolling musicians and poetry recitals. The camp was ringed by army soldiers, tanks and armored personnel carriers, but troops showed no signs of making any move against the occupiers.

"The army has really cut off the square from the rest of the city," NPR's Corey Flintoff reported from Cairo.

But in the rest of the city, he added, "people do seem to be getting back to normal."

Banks were open for limited hours along with some shops. The Egyptian stock exchange said it would resume trading Sunday for the first time since Jan. 27.

Thousands of anti-government demonstrators filled Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo on Monday. Lefteris Pitarakis/AP hide caption

toggle caption
Lefteris Pitarakis/AP

Thousands of anti-government demonstrators filled Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo on Monday.

Lefteris Pitarakis/AP

Protests And Economic Turmoil

Although there was no sign of violence in Tahrir Square on Monday after deadly clashes last week, the government said four masked gunmen set off a bomb Saturday at a gas terminal in Egypt's northern Sinai Peninsula.

The chief investigator into the explosion, first attributed to a gas leak, said in a report Monday that the terminal's guards testified that the men stormed the terminal in two cars, briefly restrained the guards and then set off the explosives by remote control.

Human Rights Watch said that 297 people have been killed since the protests began two weeks ago. Those numbers are based on the organization's visits to seven Cairo hospitals, and they're expected to rise.

As the protests continue, Egypt's economy was likely to suffer, according to Ahmed Al-Sayed El-Naggar, an economist at the Al-Ahram Foundation in Cairo.

"Especially in the tourist sector," he said. "Income from this sector is about $13 billion to $15 billion annually."

Naggar, a longtime critic of the government's economic policies, said there is another, potentially more serious, problem. He says people who gained illicit profits under the Mubarak government are now trying to get their money out of the country.

"A lot of corrupt businessmen and corrupt politicians [are] trying to transfer their money from Egyptian pounds to dollars, to euro to every currency to transfer it abroad. So, there is a [lot of] ... pressure on the Egyptian pound at this moment," he said.

The value of the pound hit a six-year-low on Monday, trading at nearly 6 pounds per U.S. dollar.

U.S. Seems To Shift Stance On Mubarak

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told NPR on Monday that "a transition process" is gradually taking place in Egypt. Mubarak, he said, has "made that psychological break" with the notion that he will continue to rule Egypt.

"He will leave office in September; he's made it clear his son will not run again," Crowley said. "What role he plays between here and there, you know, is his to make along with his senior advisers."

Speaking to reporters on Monday, President Obama said Egypt "has to negotiate a path and they're making progress."

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said at a news conference that the administration is optimistic about the direction of events in Egypt: "We have the beginnings of a process. You've seen some monumental changes in Egypt."

Gibbs also reiterated that Egypt's new leadership "will not be determined by us." In answer to a question about how White House viewed talks between the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt's government, he said it was "horribly inaccurate" to think there are only two factions in Egypt, "one the government and the other the Muslim Brotherhood."

Nathan Brown, a Middle East expert at George Washington University, said the White House position on the turmoil in Egypt has shifted slightly since last week.

"I think what the Obama administration has done is to back away from the suggestion that Mubarak leave immediately and then gone ahead with some sort of idea that there should be some kind of meaningful transition," Brown told NPR.

"In the process, they've set off all kinds of signals that suggest that they may be backing away from a full transition," Brown said. "I'm not sure that's what they intended to do, but that's certainly how it's being heard."

The regime appears confident in its ability for the moment to ride out the unprecedented storm of unrest and maintain its grip on power, at least until September elections, but it has made a number of moves in response to protesters' demands.

Fresh Slate Of Concessions

Vice President Omar Suleiman, in Sunday's meeting with opposition groups, said that when security permits, the government would lift nearly 30-year-old emergency laws giving police far-reaching powers for detention and suppression of civil and human rights. He also said the government would no longer hamper freedom of the press or interfere with text messaging or the Internet.

Suleiman said a committee of judiciary and political figures would consider reforming the constitution to allow more candidates to run for president and impose term limits on the president. He added that the government would make no recriminations against those participating in the anti-government protests.

The Muslim Brotherhood, an avowedly Islamist group that has long been the subject of an official government crackdown, was among the groups represented at the meeting with Suleiman. Afterward, it issued a statement saying that the concessions "did not advance our demands."

Notably absent from the gathering were the disparate youth movements that sparked the revolt using tech-savvy social media to challenge Mubarak's rule.

Youth leader Ahmed Mahar said the negotiations do not represent the protest movement that pushed for the mass demonstrations two weeks ago.

"Any young people now talking with Omar Suleiman or anyone else in the government does not represent the youth groups that called for the Jan. 25th revolt," Mahar said. "We all are united on this: no negotiations before Mubarak's departure."

Lawyer Ziad Al ALamy, 30, said protests would continue but that they might move out of the city center.

"We'll change the tactics; we'll change the places that we'll demonstrate on. We will change our movement; we'll change all of these things," he told NPR.

With reporting from NPR's Corey Flintoff and Eric Westervelt in Cairo and Jackie Northam in Washington. This story also contains material from The Associated Press.