Cairo – A day after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said he wouldn’t seek re-election, tens of thousands of his supporters poured into downtown Cairo on Wednesday and clashed with the pro-democracy demonstrators who’ve been demanding Mubarak’s resignation after nearly 30 years in power.
Carrying pictures of Mubarak and chanting, “The people want the president,” tens of thousands burst past a thin line of Egyptian soldiers and into Tahrir Square, the symbolic heart of the pro-democracy movement. The square that had been peacefully occupied by hundreds of thousands a day earlier devolved into chaos, with even some horses and camels running through the crowd, believed to have been brought by touts who sell rides to tourists at the Great Pyramids.
The demonstration immediately turned ugly, with rival groups confronting each other and some throwing stones. Several dozen angry Mubarak supporters chased a man and two young women down a side street, waving their fists and chanting, “Get out!” before the three ducked into a hotel for safety.
News services reported that similar clashes also occurred in the northern port city of Alexandria. Arab satellite channels said that several people were injured.
Hours earlier, the Egyptian military called for an end to the eight days of demonstrations demanding Mubarak’s ouster and urged the pro-democracy movement to stand down. Many, however, have said that they will continue to protest until Mubarak leaves office, despite his vow to serve out his term.
“You have started coming out to express your demands and you are the ones capable of returning normal life to Egypt,” Ismail Etman, a spokesman for the Egyptian army, said in a televised speech. “Your message has arrived; your demands have become known.”
It was the first time that Mubarak supporters had appeared in such massive numbers, and the move appeared carefully choreographed. Hotel workers in Tahrir Square said that the group had been massing along the Nile riverfront, a few hundred yards from the square, for seven hours.
“Where is Al Jazeera _ the Egyptians are here!” some demonstrators chanted, referring to the pan-Arab satellite channel whose Cairo bureau was closed last week by Egyptian authorities after it aired around-the-clock video of the pro-democracy rallies.
Al Jazeera English, which has continued to broadcast via satellite, aired video of what it said were police identification cards that pro-democracy demonstrators had seized from some Mubarak supporters. Many Egyptians accuse the police of brutality against Mubarak’s opponents, and say that the police force melted away from the streets after demonstrations began in order to sow chaos.
Hannah Allam and special correspondent Miret El Naggar contributed.