World and Nation

Cairo moves towards normalcy as protests continue in the capital

CAIRO — As Egypt’s revolt entered its third week the government of President Hosni Mubarak sought to seize the initiative from protesters still crowding Tahrir Square on Monday, offering a pay raise for government employees, announcing a date for opening the stock market and projecting an air of normalcy in a city reeling just days ago.

The confidence, echoed by a state-controlled media that have begun acknowledging the protests after days of the crudest propaganda, suggested both sides believed the uprising’s vitality may depend on their ability to sway a population still deeply divided over events that represent the most fundamental realignment of politics here in nearly three decades.

“Now it feels like Hosni Mubarak is playing a game of who has the longest breath,” said Amur el-Etrebi, who joined tens of thousands in Tahrir Square on Monday.

Momentum has seemed to shift by the day in a climactic struggle over what kind of change Egypt will undergo and whether Egyptian officials are sincere in delivering it.

After demonstrating an ability to bring hundreds of thousands to downtown Cairo protest organizers have sought to broaden their movement this week, acknowledging that simple numbers are not enough to force their demand for Mubarak’s departure. The government — by trying to divide the opposition, offering limited concessions and remaining patient — appears to believe it can weather the biggest challenge to its rule.

Underlining the government’s perspective that it has already offered what the protesters demanded, Naguib Sawiris, a wealthy businessman who has sought to act as a mediator, said: “Tahrir is underestimating their victory. They should declare victory.”

Cairo’s chronic traffic jams returned Monday as the city began to adapt to both the sprawling protests in Tahrir Square, a landmark of downtown Cairo, and the tanks, armored personnel carriers and soldiers who continued to block some streets. Banks again opened their doors as people lined up outside, and some shops took newspapers down from windows, occasionally near burnt-out vehicles still littering some streets.

The government has sought to cultivate that image of the ordinary, mobilizing its newspapers and television to insist that it was re-exerting control over the capital after its police utterly collapsed Jan. 28.

David D. Kirkpatrick, Kareem Fahim, Mona el-Naggar, Roger Cohen, Thanassis Cambanis and Liam Stack contributed reporting from Cairo.