CAIRO (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians demanding President Hosni Mubarak’s downfall flooded Cairo’s Tahrir Square Tuesday in one of the biggest demonstrations yet against his continued rule after three decades in power.
Many were there for the first time. Some said they had been encouraged by other protesters who had told them about the festive atmosphere in the square, the hub of protests that have rocked Mubarak’s rule.
Others said they had seen through what they called lies by the state media, which has depicted the protests as part of a foreign conspiracy against Egypt.
Numbers were also boosted by an emotional interview broadcast Monday with a Google Inc executive released from 12 days in detention for his Internet activism. A number of protesters interviewed by Reuters said Wael Ghonim’s appearance had encouraged them to join the protest.
Protesters stood shoulder-to-shoulder as they listened to Ghonim address the crowd over loud speakers Tuesday. “I am not the hero, you are the heroes,” he said.
The crowd then broke into one of their most common chants: “The people want the regime to fall.”
Reuters correspondents said the crowd appeared larger on Tuesday afternoon than it was last Friday, one of the biggest days since the protesters came out on January 25 to challenge Mubarak’s authoritarian government.
Based on a rough estimate of surface area, the protest zone can hold about a quarter of a million people if tightly packed. This is about the third time it has come close to capacity, numbers climbed as people left work.
Many protesters camp overnight in what has become a tented village in the heart of the Egyptian capital, with people selling food, drink, newspapers and Egyptian flags.
Army units stationed at the main entrances to the square did not hinder access.
At least three couples have held wedding ceremonies in Tahrir Square. A bride and groom paraded there Tuesday, surrounded by a group of protesters waving Egyptian flags and chanting: “The groom wants the end of the regime.”
The crowd tends to peak in the late afternoon and then diminish gradually after the start of the curfew imposed by the army, which now runs from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m.
One of the first-timers Tuesday was Afaf Naged, 71, a former board member of state-owned National Bank of Egypt, the country’s largest financial institution.
Naged said she was fed up with what she called Mubarak’s attempts to cling on to power. “I came here for the first time today because ... Mubarak is still meeting the same ugly faces ... He can’t believe it is over. He is a very stubborn man.”
“I am also here because of Wael Ghonim. He was right when he said that the NDP (the ruling National Democratic Party) is finished. There is no party left, but they don’t want to admit it,” she added.
“WE HAVE LOST TRUST”
Hisham Ebadi, 45, travelled from the Nile Delta province of Kafr el-Sheikh to join the protest for the first time. “At first, we thought it would be a weak uprising and the regime would crush it as normal. Now we have discovered it has continued. It has woken us up.”
Amr Fatouh, 25, a surgeon, said it was his first time protesting at the square because of his hospital duties.
“I hope people will continue and more people will come. At first, people didn’t believe the regime would fall but that is changing,” he said. The protesters say they will stay until Mubarak leaves office, a demand the government has rejected.
People have come from across the country and from almost every walk of life and political opinion -- Islamists, liberals, leftists and people who say they favour no ideology.
A former minister of transport, Essam Sharaf, also joined the protests Tuesday.
Vice President Omar Suleiman has started a dialogue with members of the protest movement but the government has taken few substantial steps to meet the demands of the protesters since Mubarak said he would not stand for another term.
“I don’t have much hope in dialogue, because we have lost trust in these people. For 30 years, they have given promises that they never carried out. For 30 years, they have distorted the will of the people,” said Gharib, a member of the opposition Ghad (Tomorrow) Party.
”Dialogue would be okay if it was realistic, but this dialogue is just on paper, it is just political manoeuvring to gain time, said Sayed Hegaz, 41.
Even outside the Tahrir Square zone, many Egyptians in downtown Cairo said they were sympathetic to the protesters, though some said they trusted the government would make real changes and that Mubarak should stay to oversee the transition.
Additional reporting by Dina Zayed and Marwa Awad; Writing by Jonathan Wright and Tom Perry