Egyptian opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei says Egypt must change and he is ready to lead the transition if asked. If that name sounds familiar, it should. He was the former head of the IAEA and won a Nobel Peace Prize so his statements carry significant weight inside and outside Egypt. That he's voiced those opinions shows that Hosni Mubarak is in real trouble.
If the Egyptian government used violence, it would lead to more violence, he warned.The Muslim Brotherhood's actions are in contrast to their hands-off attitude towards the protests earlier this week. It looks like they're getting ready to take advantage of the situation to their own benefit.
"I continue to call on the regime to understand that they better listen and listen quickly, not use violence and understand that change has to come. There's no other option," Mr ElBaradei added.
Police and demonstrators have again clashed in Cairo and Suez, and the unrest has now spread to the industrial city of Ismailiyya.
The Egyptian stock exchange suspended trading temporarily after a sharp drop within minutes of opening, but its benchmark index has fallen further since re-opening.
The unrest began on Tuesday in what anti-government activists called a "day of revolt", inspired by the uprising in Tunisia which ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
On Wednesday night, activists remained on the streets of the capital, Cairo, and of Suez, defying official warnings.
The BBC's Jon Leyne in Cairo says that while the protesters are still only a minority, they show no sign of fading away and there is a chance that many more people will join once the working week finishes on Thursday.
The protest organisers have urged people to come out in force again after attending prayers in mosques and churches on Friday, stressing that the religion of protesters is not relevant.
The Muslim Brotherhood has given its backing to the planned protests. Despite an official ban, it remains Egypt's largest and most organised opposition movement.
Egyptian bloggers continue reporting on the protests and rallying others to the cause of bringing down the Mubarak regime. The NY Times has posted a bunch of videos from rallies, protests, and riots throughout Egypt that have taken place in the past two days.
ElBaradei has returned to Egypt, but he seems to have more support among the chattering class than he does among actual Egyptians. Rather than being mobbed by supporters, journalists turned out in droves to hear what ElBaradei has to say, which isn't much more than self-serving grandstanding.
MSNBC characerizes ElBaradei as a democracy leader, but the Times notes that he's a late convert to the democracy movement. Also, protesters and security forces are gearing up for a major confrontation tomorrow, which could go a long way to defining the future of Egypt.
Smoke rose over the city of Suez on Thursday as sometimes violent protests continued there. In the capital, a relative calm settled over the streets in anticipation of a new wave of demonstrations anticipated for Friday.
Raising the stakes, the Muslim Brotherhood, long the country’s largest organized opposition group, intends to end days of official inaction to enter fully into protests on Friday. On its Web site, the group said it would join “with all the national Egyptian forces, the Egyptian people, so that this coming Friday will be the general day of rage for the Egyptian nation.”
Mr. ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency who has sought to refashion himself as pro-democracy campaigner in his homeland, is viewed by some supporters as capable of uniting the country’s fractious opposition and offering an alternative to Mr. Mubarak’s authoritarian rule. Critics view him as an opportunist who has spent too little time in the country to take control of a movement which began without his leadership.
But his return adds a new element to the unrest in several big cities that has shaken assumptions that Mr. Mubarak’s security apparatus can keep a tight lid on popular protest.
Safwat el-Sherif, the secretary general of the ruling National Democratic Party, called for restraint from both security forces and protesters, and he raised the possibility of opening a dialogue with the young people who have powered the demonstrations. At the stock exchange, meanwhile, the benchmark Egyptian index fell to its lowest level in over two years, shedding more than 10 percentage points and forcing a brief suspension of trading, news reports said.
“It’s clear today that the inability to control the situation in the streets yesterday is panicking investors,” The Associated Press quoted Ahmed Hanafi, a broker with Guthour Trading, as saying. “The drop we saw yesterday is being repeated. At this rate, it’s going to continue to fall hard.”
Despite the ban issued Wednesday on public gatherings, organizers continued to use social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to prepare for Friday.