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Egyptians begin to weary of political, social upheaval

| Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011

CAIRO — A day after pro- and anti-government protesters clashed violently downtown, anger aimed at foreigners appeared to spread Thursday in this capital.

Egyptians continued coping with the political and social chaos, including long lines to buy food or to withdraw money from automated bank machines.

Conversations on streets suggested a small but growing number of Egyptians favor an end to the protests and the ensuing upheaval in their lives. Others vowed to press on until President Hosni Mubarak leaves office.

Increasing reports of journalists being attacked or accused of spying circulated, along with rumors that some prominent political bloggers have gone missing.

On a circuitous, three-hour drive into the capital from the airport Wednesday, a guard at one roadblock was overheard asking comrades if an American reporter's U.S. passport — filled with stamps from scores of countries — indicated the traveler was a spy.

One independent Egyptian journalist spoke of “a witch hunt against foreigners” and advised a foreign reporter to stay away.

Anti-Mubarak forces pledged to take to the streets in even greater numbers after Friday prayers in the city's mosques.

Yet public sentiment on what to do next seemed to split for the first time, even as it remained widely united against Mubarak's continued rule.

In conversations in the few open shops, on the chaotic streets or in sporadic phone calls, some Egyptians said they want normalcy restored.

One man who joined in three days of street protests said those should end now that Mubarak has promised to leave office in September after a presidential election.

He said he hopes Friday's protest “doesn't work out, because there's no need for more.”

“Let people return to work,” he said. “We can get rid of (Mubarak) without making all of Egypt into Tahrir Square,” referring to the downtown square that has witnessed the largest gatherings.

Although a handful of shops opened in the city, long lines formed at groceries as Egyptians tried to restock their kitchens, 10 days into the turmoil.

Those shops had basic food items, although in dwindling variety and quantity. Lines also formed at the few banks with working automatic teller machines as people tried to withdraw money.

Government officials pledged to try to reopen the country's banks.

Government workers, normally paid on the first of each month, reportedly have not received their salaries.

Tahrir Square turned bloody Wednesday, as forces loyal to Mubarak attacked a far larger crowd opposing him. Handfuls of pro-Mubarak protesters charged into the opposing masses on horses or camels, lashing people with whips and sticks.

Health ministry officials reported 13 deaths and 1,200 injuries afterward.

An Egyptian human-rights activist said one in every three or four people was injured in the melee.

“Tahrir Square is a war zone,” she said, adding that in previous days' massive protests “there was no sexual harassment, no religious strife. We were behaving like civilized people, and then (the government) let the thugs out on us.”

Before the political upheaval began Jan. 25, Egyptian women regularly complained of being groped, harassed or attacked by groups of men, and violence between Muslims and the country's minority Coptic Christians was rising.

Egyptian officials promised to investigate Wednesday's violence and praised citizens for forming neighborhood watches to prevent looting after police largely disappeared from the streets.

Although a few more police appeared on capital streets today, the military maintained its presence. Tanks sat at intersections and checkpoints, and military helicopters droned overhead.

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