6 Feb 2011

Egyptian banks reopen

10:02 pm on 6 February 2011

President Hosni Mubarak's government aims to get people back to work on Sunday with banks and businesses reopening after a week long closure due to political protests.

Protesters camped out in Cairo's Tahrir Square vowed to continue their battle to oust him but the 82-year-old president insists he will stay until September polls.

And with some Egyptians keen for a return to normal, the government appears to be trying to emphasise the threat to stability and the economy from the protests, and tough it out.

Its move will give the first clear indication of the economic toll of almost two weeks of protests against President Mubarak's 30-year rule.

Talks with opposition groups

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Saturday threw her weight behind talks between Mr Mubarak's handpicked vice president, Omar Suleiman, and opposition groups, saying the government's dialogue with the opposition must be given time.

Mr Suleiman is expected to meet with opposition groups in talks on Sunday morning, joined for the first time by the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's most organised opposition group.

The Muslim Brotherhood said the talks would aim to assess how far the government was "ready to accept the demands of the people".

The Islamist group is Egypt's most influential and well organised opposition but it remains officially banned.

Mass resignations

Leading officials in Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party have resigned en masse on Saturday.

Two key allies of President Hosni Mubarak, including his son Gamal, were stripped of their posts.

Gamal Mubarak lost his post as head of the policies committee, along with Secretary-General Safwat al-Sharif.

Protests continue

The protests began on 25 January and huge crowds demonstrated across Egypt on Friday for an 11th day.

More than 100,000 people gathered in Tahrir Square in Cairo for what was called the "day of departure".

Thousands of people continue to occupy Tahrir Square, calling for Mr Mubarak to stand down.

Opposition demonstrators continue to occupy the square as the protests enter their 13th day, although the numbers from Friday's rally have fallen.

The military has been attempting to reopen the square to the public and to confine the protests to a small area.

But hundreds of people attempted to prevent the army from entering the square - some lay on the ground in front of the tanks to block their progress.

The BBC reports that relations between the soldiers and the demonstrators have remained friendly.

Economic cost

Many shops have been closed during 12 days of protests and banks have been shut, making it hard for Egyptians to stock up on basic goods.

Sunday's bank openings will test how worried foreign investors are about the events that have sent shockwaves across the Middle East.

Egypt closed its banks and the stock exchange for a week during the protests that have driven away a million tourists - one of Egypt's main sources of revenues.

The central bank has insisted it has the reserves to deal with any outflows, which could hit $8 billion in two weeks the governor said, saying Egypt had handled bigger outflows.

But analysts say there may be chaos in bank dealing rooms as foreign investors and local businessmen flee the Egyptian pound, which tumbled to six-year lows in the two days the market was open after 25 January.

The United Nations estimates 300 people have died in the unrest and the health minister has said around 5000 people have been wounded since 25 January.