Egypt crisis shows little signs of ending

Cairo: As anti-regime rallies in Egypt entered their third week, tens of thousands of protesters on Tuesday vowed to step up their struggle to oust embattled President Hosni Mubarak, who attempted to defuse public anger by setting up a panel to oversee key constitutional and legislative amendments to enable a power transition.

"Nothing will move us. We only have one-point agenda to see the back of despot Mubarak," Shady al-Ghazali Harb, who has been elected by the youths leading the protests to be one of their representatives in talks with the regime, said.

"We have waited for 30 years for this momentous event and we won`t let it go," he said, adding the reforms can follow.

His comments came as new Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that 82-year-old Mubarak had formed a committee that would oversee constitutional and legislative amendments.

"President Mubarak today signed a decree for the formation of the constitutional commission which will oversee constitutional amendments, and required legislative amendments," Suleiman said in a statement read out on television.

He said the President also tasked the Prime Minister with establishing a "follow up committee" to implement the decisions taken by parties involved in the national dialogue.

Notwithstanding a series of concessions offered by Mubarak`s regime like pay hikes, a free media and promise of lifting of emergency curbs, the protesters on a historic sit-in at the Tahrir (Liberation) Square in the heart of Cairo vowed to intensify their struggle till they end his 30-year rule.

The youngsters, who have been at the vanguard of the revolution at the Tahrir Square, say that the movement is led by educated and middle class and is not in the hands of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood, which held talks with the regime to end the crisis.

The sops by Mubarak like 15 per cent pay hike for some six million public employees did not seem to deter the youths camping for last 15 days at the Tahrir Square, the hub of unrelenting anti-government protests.

"Mubarak has to go and true democracy has to be restored in Egypt, the ancient citadel of civilisation," Shady al-Ghazali Harbhe told PTI, adding the protests will continue until their demands are met and democracy is ushered in Egypt.

"We want democracy and let democracy bring on him whom people want. We do want to select a person to bring on democracy. This is not how it works. We are pro-democracy and if we are anti-Mubarak it is because he is against democracy."

He insisted that the President has to go. "The upper and lower houses of Parliament have to be dissolved and the Constitution amended."

The uprising against Mubarak started on January 25 with a call on Facebook by a group, which now has tens of thousands of members. It has organised a series of protests and events since its creation.

"We decided on the meeting points and the paths the protesters would take until they reached Al-Tahrir square," said Al-Ghazali, who was among organisers of the group.

Meanwhile, Essam El-Erian, a member of the most influential opposition group Muslim Brotherhood, told pan-Arabic channel Al-Jazeera that his outfit has to participate "in any dialogue that can meet the demands of the people".

However, another member of the movement played down the meeting, saying the group is not prepared to drop its central demand of calling for Mubarak to resign as President.

"We cannot call it talks or negotiations. The Muslim Brotherhood went with a key condition that cannot be abandoned … that he (Mubarak) needs to step down in order to usher in a democratic phase," Abdul Moneim Aboul Fotouh was quoted as saying by the channel.

According to a statement from Suleiman`s office following the meeting with the movement, the government offered to form a committee to examine proposed constitutional amendments, pursue allegedly corrupt government officials, "liberalise" media and communications and lift the state of emergency in the country, which is in place since 1981, when the security situation was deemed to be appropriate.

But Fotouh said the government had failed to take concrete measures on the ground. "If they were serious, the Parliament would have been dissolved, also a presidential decree ending the emergency law".

Nobel laureate and former IAEA chief Mohammad ElBaradei, an opposition activist who was not invited at the meeting yesterday, slammed the negotiations, saying they were "opaque" and "nobody knows who is talking to whom at this stage".

The UN says at least 300 people have been killed in the violence since anti-Mubarak demonstrations began two weeks ago.