Chris McGreal reports on the final hardcore protesters who have not left Tahrir Square, even at night, thoughout the protests which continue on the 14th day there. It’s a rare slice of life of the diverse set of people who led this pro-democracy movement from the beginning. And it shows that, despite a concerted attempt by Western journalists and political leaders to put the crisis behind them, there are still many willing to fight for their freedom, including activist Wael Ghonim, who was finally released by the government today after nearly two weeks in custody. He tweeted, “Freedom is a bless (sic) that deserves fighting for it.” At the same time, other activists have been arrested, including independent filmmakers and bloggers.
Meanwhile, the government, still in operation under Hosni Mubarak, tried buying some goodwill today:
Egypt’s new cabinet has announced a 15% rise in salaries and pensions in an attempt to draw the sting from the public protests that have convulsed the country, threatening to drive Hosni Mubarak out of power after 30 years.
The increase for public sector workers followed earlier proposals for greater political freedom that have yet to convince pro-democracy protesters to leave Tahrir Square after two weeks of unrest that have claimed up to 300 lives.
The new finance minister, Samir Radwan, says some 6.5bn Egyptian pounds ($960m) will be allocated to cover the increases, which will take effect in April for the 6 million people on the public payroll.
Surely, Egypt’s version of Alan Simpson will vociferously oppose this and call the public sector in the country a milk cow with 6 million tits.
In a country of 84 million with less of a working-age population, that’s a significant salary increase for quite a lot of people. Protesters will not accept that as a substitute for Mubarak’s dismissal. But it’s certainly an effort to cleave off support for the uprising, or at least the immediate action of Mubarak resigning.
In one sense, the protests have succeeded in wringing out concession after concession from the government. But fundamentally, the structure has not changed and you get the sense that observers around the world are turning away from this uprising (the fact that Egyptian authorities have tightly controlled media access doesn’t help). That presages a dangerous time for the activists.