CAIRO (Reuters) - Dressed in black and gathered in a wealthy suburb of Cairo, thousands of Egyptians took to the streets, not to celebrate the downfall of Hosni Mubarak but to apologise for the way he was deposed after 30 years.
“Yes to Change, No to Humiliation,” said one banner hoisted aloft by the crowd of 5,000 in the Mohandisseen district, a short distance from hundreds of thousands celebrating the fall of Egypt’s strongman just a week ago.
The group chanted: “The people want to honour the president,” playing on the words of a protesters’ chant which called on him to quit.
They saw no contradiction in wanting to see Mubarak, 82, leave office but with dignity after three decades in office.
“We are Egyptians, and we have manners. I do not object to his departure but not that way,” said banker Ahmed Naguib, 24.
The army, ordered onto the streets by Mubarak just days into the protests to restore calm when police lost control, surrounded the pro-Mubarak group to avoid any clashes. But there was no sign of hostility to the group.
“I object to the way he left. The revolution had goals, but none of these goals was to humiliate anyone. Insulting Mubarak is an insult to Egypt,” said housewife Sahar Ragab.
The former leader is sick and holed up in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
The peaceful pro-Mubarak group appeared to have little in common with the loyalists who attacked anti-government protesters while Mubarak was still in power, prompting violent exchanges and hundreds of casualties.
Ahmed Mounir, 24, a student wearing an “I love Mubarak” T-shirt and too young to know any other leader, said:
“I want to tell the president, sorry. I am sorry that there are people who belittled what he did. I support them in combating corruption and am pleased with them. But I object that the president leaves in such a way after all those years.”
Mubarak’s government, in the last few years, implemented economic liberalisation that foreign investors praised but which the poor said created a huge wealth gap.
Political reforms were drawn up to ensure Mubarak and his allies kept an iron grip on power.
“I respect all those who made change and demanded democracy, but it is not acceptable not to be grateful to the pilot who fought during the 1973 war,” said Nelly Millad, 27, referring to Mubarak’s air force experience and Egypt’s last conflict with Israel.
Some in the crowd were just keen to see Egypt return to normality after more than three turbulent weeks that have sparked factory strikes, forced banks to close and driven tourists away from beaches and the pyramids.
“This is enough. The protesters succeeded, so enough. I can’t work. We all have to go to work. Going to work is the thing that will implement real change and not the protests or the sit-ins,” said Hany Ellias, who works in a tourism firm.