Former IAEA head Mohammed ElBaradei returned to Egypt Thursday from Vienna, where he has lived for the past few years, fueling speculation that President Hosni Mubarak's reign may be at an end.
Riots and protests in the streets of Cairo entered the third straight day, and social networking sites were jammed with anticipation of massive rallies planned for Friday.
Millions gather at the country's mosques each week on that day, the Islamic Sabbath, providing protest organizers with the fuel needed for a massive demonstration calling for Mubarak's ouster.
The 82-year-old president, who is ailing, has not been seen since the riots erupted on Tuesday, with tens of thousands marching in cities across Egypt.
Media reports said that Mubarak's wife Suzanne, his son Gamal, considered the likely successor to his father as president, and Gamal's daughter fled to London in a private jet with 97 suitcases.
ElBaradei, a Nobel peace laureate and the top opposition candidate to face Mubarak's son Gamal in upcoming national elections, declared Thursday he was ready to lead the protests. The long-outlawed fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, the nation's largest opposition group, also declared its support for the protests.
Mubarak's National Democratic party, headed by Safwat El-Sherif, meanwhile, said at a news conference that the government would not enter a dialogue with anarchy.
"We are confident of our ability to listen," said El-Sherif, according to the Associated Press. "The NDP is ready for a dialogue with the public, youth and legal parties. but democracy has its rules and process. The minority does not force its will on the majority."
However, reports of extreme brutality by government forces trying to contain the riots are making the rounds of the social networking sites. The reports resemble those seen during the Iranian protests that followed the so-called "re-election" of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad more than a year ago, expanding the groundswell of grassroots opposition to any continuation of the status quo.
A protester who survived one such beating Wednesday near Tahrir Square, Amr Salama, told his story in an article translated into English and posted on the Facebook social networking site.
Explaining that his goal was a "better Egypt where police protects the people rather than doing what was done to me and many other protesters in every police department and street... a better Egypt where anyone who has a right can go to a police department to demand it without any fear of being ignored"
Salama vowed to continue his protests. He further wrote that he realized the soldiers who beat him "had no idea why they were doing it," adding that the soldiers appeared to have sympathy for him, and "were probably more afraid" than he was.
"I most importantly realized that there is hope, hope to see Egypt not only as liberated as Tunis but also in a place better than I could ever imagine," he wrote. "A place I would want to have kids so they would live a good life full of dignity and make it even better."