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Egypt: What’s Happening Now (Updated)

Mubarak not stepping down. "Down Down with Mubarak!" (Also read Roger L. Simon: "Will Iran reignite?" )

by
Josh Shahryar

Bio

January 28, 2011 - 10:04 am

UPDATED (8:34p EST): Al Jazeera has released a new casualty list. According to the station, over 20 people have been killed and over a 1,000 have been injured. Activists online claim that hundreds, perhaps more than a thousand, others have been arrested from across the country.

The Egyptian army just moved into the northern city of Alexandria. Protesters have burnt down the government headquarters in the city and several police stations, which are now all being guarded by the army. Even as it’s nearly 4 AM in Egypt, the capital Cairo is still being rocked by explosions according to multiple witnesses inside the city. No independent confirmation exists of the cause of these explosions.

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UPDATED (7:00p EST): Rough transcript of President Obama’s speech on Egypt:

President Obama started by saying that the White House had been been monitoring the the situation in Egypt. He called on Egyptian authorities to not use violence against their people. He also said that the Egyptian people have the right to free speech, assembly, and association and to determine their own destiny.

He asked the Egyptian government to remove the internet blockage and restrictions on social websites. He then asked the people of Egypt to not use violence and work towards their goals using peaceful means. He stressed that the United States has a close partnership with Egypt. But it is clear that there must be social, political, and economic reforms that meet the Egyptian people’s aspirations.

He mentioned that he spoke to Mubarak and told him that he should deliver on his promises that he had made to the Egyptian people in his speech an hour ago. He also stressed that ultimately, the future of Egypt would be determined by the Egyptian people and that they wanted the same thing the people of the United States want: a better life and a just and responsive government.

He added that the U.S. will be a partner in pursuit of aspirations and will be working with the Egyptian government and people to secure their future. The president concluded by saying that the new generation in Egypt had the right to be heard and that the U.S. will continue to stand up for the rights of the Egyptian people and will work with the Egyptian government in pursuit of a better future for them.

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UPDATED (6:33p EST): As the protests continue, several people are claiming that the army may be providing riot police and other security forces with live ammunition to use against protesters. This cannot be denied or confirmed yet. Many people inside Egypt on social networking sites — using proxies to connect on the single remaining ISP that hasn’t been blocked by the government — are showing anger and discontent at President Mubarak’s speech and his refusal to cede power.

Jeremy Scahill of The Nation claimed on Twitter that President Barack Obama was on the phone with Mubarak for half an hour. No other source has confirmed this yet.

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UPDATED (6:14p EST): Protesters have not gone home after the speech by President Mubarak. They continue to chant anti-government and anti-Mubarak slogans and remain at large in Cairo and other cities.

The first reaction by an opposition party comes from the Muslim Brotherhood. A leader of the Brotherhood told Al Jazeera moments ago that Mubarak must step down and [in case he doesn't] the military must step in and remove him.
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UPDATED (5:40p EST): After the conclusion of Mubarak’s speech, protesters were heard on Al Jazeera screaming: “Down Down with Mubarak!”

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UPDATED (5:36p EST): Hosni Mubarak appeared on Egypt’s Nile TV, declaring that he has asked the government — presumably the entire cabinet at least, if not the parliament — to resign, and there will be a new government announced tomorrow. He also spoke at length about his government’s efforts in stabilizing the country and in making economic reforms. He said that he cannot allow for the country to fall into insecurity and instability. He also announced that he knows the issues that the Egyptian people are suffering from, and that he and his government had worked tirelessly to alleviate the people’s poor conditions.

He announced that the protests were a result of the freedoms — mainly freedom of expression and freedom of assembly — that were granted and guaranteed by his government. He warned the country to look at the instability caused by similar protests in countries around Egypt, and how  the people there ended up not having the democracy that they protested so hard for.

But throughout the speech, President Mubarak sounded like a man who looked like he was unable to control the people. There were no harsh warnings of use of force against protesters. Effectively, his act of asking the government to resign was presented by him as a desperate means to appease the protesters.

There are no reactions as of yet from the opposition leaders or protesters.
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UPDATE (5:20p EST): Mubarak now speaking.

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UPDATE (4:59p EST): There is a strong likelihood, being discussed right now, that President Hosni Mubarak may have already left the country. He was due to appear on TV, which had been announced hours ago, yet no word came of that. Instead, the parliament speaker, who is first in line to succeed the president, appeared on TV and said there will be an announcement shortly. Speculation is that if Mubarak were in the country, the speaker Ahmad Fathi Sorour wouldn’t have had to make the announcement and Mubarak would have appeared on TV himself. While the opposition claims the president’s wife, son, and a grandchild left the country for Europe two days ago, the government denies this.

So far, the Army, which was mobilized by the government a few hours ago, has not directly stepped in to stop the protests. This is good news for protesters who have beaten back the riot police and other security forces for the most part, and are in virtually uncontested control of major parts of Cairo and other cities. The Army is simply securing important government buildings and broadcasting facilities in Cairo and other cities.

Protesters remain on the streets and the chaos continues as the world awaits word from the Egyptian government.

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UPDATE (4:35p EST): Egyptian Parliament Speaker Ahmad Fathi Sorour appeared on state TV and said: “An important matter will be announced shortly.” No further details.

Protests continue. On the other side of the world, reports suggest that in Caracas, Venezuela, a group of protesting Arabs and Egyptians have entered and taken over the Egyptian embassy there.

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UPDATE (4:11p EST): Protesters also remain out on the streets in Suez, and several buildings are on fire there as well. Al Jazeera now confirms 11 dead, 150 injured and 20 critically injured in that city. That brings the total number of deaths that can be confirmed for today to 12. Sources are claiming as many as 1,000 people have been arrested all over the country, but there is no way to confirm that number.

There are reports that influential businessmen and even some government officials, many close to President Mubarak, have boarded planes and left the country.
The government is trying to solidify its control on important buildings in Cairo, including broadcasting stations and ministries, by sending army tanks there. Tanks were also spotted heading towards the U.S. and British Embassies.
Earlier, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters that the U.S. is reconsidering its “assistance posture” to Cairo. In the meantime, Vodafone, which disconnected phone services and internet last night under government pressure, is feeling the heat as protesters are reportedly attacking its offices in Cairo and other cities.
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UPDATE (3:45p EST): There is absolute chaos. Some are claiming the death toll in Suez is as high as almost a dozen, and over a hundred injured. The death toll in Cairo still stands at 1, but that number might rise as night falls.

Confusion has taken over reporting from Cairo and other cities in Egypt. Because the situation is so tense, reporters are having trouble confirming reports that are being relayed to them, and even confirming events that they are witnessing right in front of them.

While most reporters claim the army entered the cities, some claim it was actually the Presidential Guard, which is separate from the Army and numbers over 20,000.

In the meantime, protests continue, even as it has been hours since a curfew was imposed all over the country, and it’s past 10 p.m. Security is still trying to control them, and the government seems to have suddenly quieted down. There is no word from the president’s office about whether he will deliver the speech he promised a few hours ago tonight, or tomorrow, or not at all.

What looks certain is that Cairo is witnessing gunfire, explosions, and fires, and reports of casualties and arrests are mounting.

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UPDATE: The Foreign Affairs Ministry is on fire, according to Al Jazeera.

The Army Chief of Staff is returning home from DC, cutting short his trip.

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UPDATE: Al Jazeera just now claimed at least 5 have died in Suez.

Hundreds have been injured and the hospitals across the country are overwhelmed by the number of wounded protesters brought in. Clashes continue in several cities. Opposition leader Ayman Nour has been injured in the protests and is now in the hospital. The U.S. State Department just released a travel warning for Egypt.

Army military vehicles moving towards Foreign Ministry, Ministry of Information, and State Radio and TV building after reports that protesters tried to storm the state Radio and TV building. Curfew has been extended to the entire country. Protests continue even so. Also, 80,000 protested today in Port Said, near the Suez Canal.

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UPDATE: The National Democratic Party’s headquarters in Cairo has been destroyed by fire after being looted by protesters.

Egypt Air has suspended all flights for the next 12 hours.

The northern Sinai peninsula has lost electricity.

In the meantime, tanks have entered Alexandria and the army is exerting control over Suez. Downtown Cairo is in chaos right now, with fires in many different buildings.

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Protesters defied a government crackdown on all forms of communication to hold the largest anti-government protests in Egypt in living memory. Hundreds of thousands of people showed up on the streets of Egypt’s capital and other large cities chanting slogans demanding of U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled the country as president for nearly three decades now.

In the past several days, protesters had gathered in Egypt’s capital and other cities and clashed with riot police, but the numbers had been much smaller. Yesterday, in the face of a brutal crackdown on protesters in the port city of Suez, protesters vowed to show up in large numbers after Friday prayers today.

Their call gained momentum when the Muslim Brotherhood — the largest opposition party in Egypt and an Islamic fundamentalist organization with links to terrorist organizations — gave backing to the protests, and opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed El Baradei returned to Cairo and promised to join the protesters.

The government last night arrested hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members, including their spokesperson Issam al -ryan. In an unprecedented move the government shut off almost all ISPs in the country, restricted cell phone service and landlines, and blocked SMS services to try and hamper the mobilization of protesters.

That effort seems to have failed.

Three hundred thousand people gathered in Egypt’s second largest city, Alexandria. Hundreds of thousands showed up in Cairo, and thousands more showed in Suez, Mansoura, and other cities. So far, clashes have left dozens injured, and at least one man has died in Cairo after being struck by a tear gas canister. El Baradei has apparently been forced into house arrest as well.

So far, protesters have managed to push back riot police and other security forces from the main squares and streets of Suez and Alexandria, and seem to be in control. In Cairo, the situation is extremely tense, and a curfew was announced by the military that will last from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. The military has been mobilized by Hosni Mubarak to control the protesters.

So far, chaos reigns. The headquarters of the ruling party, NDP, have been set on fire in several Egyptian cities, including the capital. Protesters have defied the curfew, and gunfire is now being heard from Cairo as night falls. President Hosni Mubarak has announced that he will appear on TV and address the nation soon. But as the day goes on in Egypt, it looks like the protests aren’t dying down, and the government is failing to control the situation.

Gunfire and loud explosions can be heard in Cairo, with noises getting louder by the minute. Several police vehicles have so far been torched, and it seems the situation will continue to escalate throughout the night.

More updates soon.

Josh Shahryar is a National Security Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. A journalist and human rights activist, he covers ongoing conflicts as well as human rights issues for various media organizations.
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