Middle East

Egypt: An anxious waiting game as standoff continues

An Egyptian woman holds a child as she watches Egyptian protesters gather at Tahrir square in Cairo, Egypt, 30 January 2011
Image caption As protests continue, there are signs of nervousness among many Egyptians who are just trying to stay safe and feed their families

As darkness fell, the loud whirring of military helicopters could again be heard above central Cairo.

They followed the first fighter jets to take to the skies overhead since this crisis began.

It was clear that the display of military might was meant to have a psychological effect on the tens of thousands of protesters already gathering in Tahrir Square.

Show of force

But just as they had quickly adjusted to the presence of tanks on the streets, demonstrators said they were undeterred.

They continued to chant angrily for President Hosni Mubarak to step down, some waving the Egyptian flag to show their patriotism.

"At first, I was frightened from the sound of the planes but now it's as if I'm listening to music," commented a student who had come out to protest for the first time.

"It's okay, they're not going to kill us," she said, then added, "although some people do say the president might kill all the country just to stay on."

The role that the armed forces could play continues to worry many people.

Image caption Good will has been evident but some people worry tactics will change

There have been some shows of solidarity with protesters sharing their food with soldiers and in one case, carrying a young officer on their shoulders.

However, many fear that instructions could be given to take a much tougher approach to disperse the crowds.

"The soldiers are not out here for the people, they are out for the president," said a middle-aged man.

Stocking up

As protests entered their sixth day there were other signs of nervousness.

As most shops and businesses stayed closed in Cairo, people rushed to withdraw money from bank cash machines.

One well-off woman apologised to the impatient queue behind her as she withdrew thousands of Egyptian pounds, passing wads of cash to a friend who stashed the money in her handbag.

In one of the few supermarkets that remained open, shelves were stripped bare by shoppers, many stocking up with dry and canned foods.

"I am getting ready," said one housewife. "Maybe I will just stay in my apartment for a few days if things get really bad. I don't want my children to get hungry".

In the poor area of Imbaba, there were complaints as bakeries quickly ran out of the small round loaves of bread that are a staple of the national diet.

Groups of locals there also carried knives and other weapons as they remained on look-out through the day, worried about possible intruders.

Watching and waiting

In other neighbourhoods, residents and the caretakers of their buildings waited until nightfall to resurrect makeshift checkpoints. Some used equipment left by police officers after they abandoned their usual positions.

Image caption Volunteers are guarding shops and homes to protect them from looters

With sticks and pistols in hand, they are on guard against looters.

State television has warned there are gangs on the rampage, although some believe it is exaggerating the threat to scare people.

While many forms of communication, such as printed media and the internet, have been restricted, Egyptians are continuing to tune in to satellite television to hear the news.

The information ministry has closed the local Al-Jazeera office in a fresh attempt to control the message. However such efforts seem futile.

Images of the scenes unfolding are being broadcast into homes across Egypt and the Arab world, and large audiences are watching and waiting to see what happens.