CAIRO (AP) — Thousands of Egyptians gathered on an upscale Cairo boulevard Wednesday to cheer on President Hosni Mubarak in the first mass counter-demonstration after more than a week of calls for him to resign.
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.
On the boulevard in the upper-class 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!"
In dozens of interviews, they 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, whom praised for keeping the country at peace after a series of wars with Israel.
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.
"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 in Egypt Mubarak took power nearly 30 years ago.
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 genie who will fix everything," said Fatima al-Shal, 41, who wore a heavily bejeweled ring on each hand. "We have to give them time to peacefully change power," she said.
"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."