The working week began today: just like it used to before young Egyptians took to the streets in their Day of Anger against President Hosni Mubarak on January 25. Some of the shops were closed but a mood of confidence filled the air as people hurried about their business.

The trains were running and the banks were open for three hours, allowing those who’d missed out in long queues at ATMs to get their fair share of cash.

Saturday had been almost festive with everyone busy on the street with their chores: and perhaps enjoying some time-out and recovering from Friday’s massive Day of Departure protest, which filled Alexandria’s harbour-front from one end to another.

Overnight Mubarak had told Christiane Amanpour from America’s ABC network beforehand that he was fed-up and wanted to retire but he couldn’t because there’d be chaos with the Muslim Brotherhood taking control. (The Muslim Brotherhood is popular in Egypt and had a scheduled meeting with the government, sans Mubarak this afternoon. They’d previously refused to discuss anything until Mubarak left but changed their mind.)

That Mubarak is going nowhere didn’t seem to register with Friday’s protesters who were on a Victory March without a victory and when they reached the end of the Corniche they all turned around and came back again.

The scene was extraordinary. A slow hum, then a roar of noise: with music and chanting, loudspeakers, flags and banners, carried by thousands and thousands of men, women and children. Some even turned out for a mini-march on Saturday, including doctors against Mubarak.

An older one, whose father had worked for Mubarak’s predecessor, Anwar Sadat, assassinated in 1981, told me he was “overwhelmed” by the young intellectuals in Cairo and by the “impeccable” behaviour of the army.

Like many, I’d been out on Saturday to begin again the ordinary process of living — haircut and various other things — so today, I thought I’d venture further afield and survey the damage. First stop was the mosque where all the protests begin and despite the work day, hundreds had gathered, just to “be there” it seemed, with their children, cameras and flags: and the burnt out vehicles from clashes with police more than a week ago looked more like props for a movie.

The massive Carrefour shopping mall, south of Alexandria, also looks unreal, as army tanks have replaced vehicles in the car park to prevent further looting. After looking at a few trashed police stations, my final stop was the famous library and modern-day cultural beacon, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

Whatever happens to the rest of the city, this is one place the Army will protect from everything short of a natural disaster, and as I left there late this afternoon, an officer poked his head in the window of my taxi for a chat then said, “be sure to be home by curfew”.

No wonder people have such a good feeling about the Army.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey