CAIRO (AP) - Thousands of Egyptians gathered in an upscale Cairo boulevard Wednesday to cheer on President Hosni Mubarak in their first mass counter-demonstration after more than a week of calls for him to resign.
Many praised Mubarak for keeping the country at peace after a series of wars with Israel. Others said they felt personally humiliated by anti-Mubarak demonstrators jeering a man they saw as a symbol of the nation.
The mood was angry and defiant but the protest was mostly peaceful, in contrast to the scene in Cairo's main square, where hundreds of young pro-government supporters attacked crowds of thousands demanding his ouster.
The demonstration of the pro-Mubarak supporters was mostly peaceful, in contrast to the scene in Cairo's main square, where hundreds of young pro-government supporters are attacking anti-government crowds
On the boulevard in the middle-class, heavily commercial neighborhood of Mohandiseen, men in designer sunglasses and women with expensive hairdos joined government employees, including a few dozen nurses in white dresses and stockings who jumped and chanted, "We love you Mubarak!" Younger men carried portraits of Mubarak and shouted in support. Children painted their faces with the black, white and red colors of the Egyptian flag.
Pro-Mubarak protesters also gathered in other middle-class Cairo neighborhoods and the Nile Delta town of Luxor.
"We have been a stable country since the days of the Pharoahs. These demonstrators want to turn us into Somalia: poor and at war with itself," cried Samir Hamid, a 58-year-old war veteran who said his age made him remember life before Mubarak took power nearly 30 years ago. He said he recalled struggling to find bread in the pre-Mubarak years, and the wailing of Egyptian women who lost their sons in wars against Israel.
In dozens of interviews, pro-Mubarak demonstrators expressed fears of chaos and violence engulfing the country. They said they feared for Egypt's plummeting currency and the shortages of food and gasoline gripping the country's major cities. They identified themselves as middle- and working-class people whose lives had improved under Mubarak. Many of them said they were victims of looters who had smashed up their shops and stolen their wares. They blamed the protesters for the violence.
"Those youth in the square must go home," said 30-year-old butcher Ahmad Khalil. "Women in our homes are scared. We need peace," he said.
Many said they did not necessarily support the Egyptian president, but said the anti-Mubarak demonstrators should have been satisfied by his Tuesday night pledge to step down from power in seven months, after the country holds elections.
"It's not like Mubarak can rub Aladdin's lamp and pull out a gene who will fix everything," said Fatima al-Shal, 41, waving her hands that were bedecked with two heavily jeweled diamond rings. "We have to give them time to peacefully change power."
Many said they felt personally humiliated by the jeers of anti-Mubarak demonstrators for the Egyptian leader to leave the country. They called Egypt a deeply patriarchal society where the leader is seen as a father-like figure, and a symbol of the nation itself.
"I feel humiliated," said Mohammed Hussein, a 31-year-old factory worker. "He is the symbol of our country. When he is insulted, I am insulted."
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)