Egypt is Burning (Jan 28)

AlJazeera’s English news channel is reporting that, despite increased violence and government-imposed curfews, Egyptians continue to protest in Cairo, Suez, and Alexandria. Live coverage is available at that link via a stream in the sidebar. Both live footage and previously recorded film show burning buildings, burning police vehicles, huge plumes of smoke, and large numbers of protesters still in the street.

Some are speculating the use of live ammunition.

David D. Kirkpatrick and Alan Cowell of the New York Times are reporting rubber bullets were definitely used by police earlier in the day. Explosions are definitely audible on the AlJazeera stream. Kirkpatrick and Cowell document the clashes between protesters and police:

At least one person appeared to have been killed in Suez, east of Cairo and the site of some of the most violent clashes. Reuters reported that protesters were carrying a man’s body through the streets as one demonstrator shouted, “They have killed my brother.” Details of his death were not immediately clear. According to the Associated Press, Egyptian security officials said they had placed the most prominent opposition figures, Mohamed ElBaradei, under house arrest, but that could not be independently confirmed and reports throughout the day had been contradictory. Shortly before, police doused Mr. ElBaradei with a water cannon and beat supporters who tried to shield him. Mr. ElBaradei, the former head of theInternational Atomic Energy Agency, returned to Cairo on Thursday, promising to join the largely leaderless protests that have so far been propelled by young people.

Near Tahrir Square, protesters set fire to a police truck as police lobbed tear gas to try to block access to a key bridge across the River Nile from the island of Zamalek. Some demonstrators stamped on photographs of the president and others chanted “Down, down with Mubarak.” The acrid stench of tear gas spread across the capital reaching up the windows of high-rise buildings. Television images showed plainclothes security policemen beating protesters.

At Al Azhar in old Cairo, thousands of people poured from one of the most iconic mosques of Sunni Islam, chanting “The people want to bring down the regime.” The police fired tear gas and protesters hurled rocks as they sought to break though police lines. From balconies above the street, residents threw water and lemons to protesters whose eyes were streaming from tear gas.

Similar demonstrations were also reported in the cities of Suez, Alexandria and several others, including Al Arish in northern Sinai and Mansour in the Nile Delta region.

Although the police beat back protesters in many places, they appeared to be struggling in parts of Alexandria, where protesters snatched batons, shields and helmets from the police. Honking cars drove up and down a main street, holding police riot shields and truncheons out the windows as trophies. A burned out police wagon blocked an intersection. A car turned on its side poured black smoke.

Egypt’s army is now being summoned into action, though what their role in events will be is unclear. According to the latest article from AlJazeera, the Egyptian people look positively on the army and may even expect their assistance against a violent and brutal police force:

Al Jazeera’s Ayman Mohyeldin, reporting from Cairo, said protesters reacted positively when an armoured vehicle with troops showed up, possibly indicating that it belonged to the military.

“The army is a respected establishment in Egypt, and many feel they need their support against what they see as excessive force by the police and security forces,” he said.

Earlier, clashes between protesters and police erupted outside a mosque in Cairo.

Protesters reportedly threw stones and dirt at the police after security forces confronted them. They held up posters saying “No to dictatorship” and stamped on posters of Mubarak.

Al Jazeera’s Rawya Rageh, reporting from the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, said protesters streamed out of mosques shortly after prayers to chant slogans against Mubarak. Police responded immediately, firing tear gas to disperse the crowd.

Alexandria is a stronghold of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s technically banned but largest political opposition group, but Rageh said the crowds in the city predominantly consisted of “ordinary citizens”.

“This is the same mosque where protests were held against police brutality in June after a 20-year-old man was beaten to death by police,” she said. “It’s very symbolic that the current protests are taking place at the same place all over again.”

Protests were also reported in Suez, a port on the Red Sea east of Cairo, and in the Nile Delta cities of Mansoura and Sharqiya, witnesses said.

Friday marked the fourth consecutive day of protests in the Middle East’s most populous nation coming on the heels of a social uprising in nearby Tunisia that ousted that country’s president of 23 years.

On Thursday, protesters hurled petrol bombs at a fire station in Suez, setting it ablaze. They tried but failed to set fire to a local office of the ruling National Democratic Party. At another rally near Giza on the outskirts of Cairo, police used tear gas to break up hundreds of protesters late at night.

The countrywide violence has so far left seven people dead.

In response, the government has promised to crack down on demonstrations and arrest those participating in them. It has blocked internet, mobile phone and SMS services in order to disrupt the planned demonstrations.

Numerous other publications are also reporting that Internet and phone service has been shut down all across Egypt. Blogger James Cowie of Renesys has posted evidence of that blackout. What happens when you disconnect an entire country from the Internet in the modern age? Cowie asks the same question while explaining how this is different from similar tactics used by the Iranian government during the Green Revolution:

This is a completely different situation from the modest Internet manipulation that took place in Tunisia, where specific routes were blocked, or Iran, where the Internet stayed up in a rate-limited form designed to make Internet connectivity painfully slow. The Egyptian government’s actions tonight have essentially wiped their country from the global map.

What happens when you disconnect a modern economy and 80,000,000 people from the Internet? What will happen tomorrow, on the streets and in the credit markets? This has never happened before, and the unknowns are piling up. We will continue to dig into the event, and will update this story as we learn more. As Friday dawns in Cairo under this unprecedented communications blackout, keep the Egyptian people in your thoughts.

Some journalists and commentators have questioned the Cairo Wikileaks cables, but the group did release several documents this morning that detail the corruption in the Egyptian government, including blatant human rights violations. These cables are primarily briefing documents for high-level American officials and include information about foreign affairs in Egypt, as well as internal affairs like police brutality and Mubarak’s status as president and dictator.

Contrary to Joe Biden’s position, which will likely spawn trouble for the Vice President, the United States does appear to recognize Mubarak’s status as a dictator in president’s clothing. I’m of the opinion these documents are very important. They not only record American attitudes toward the Egyptian government, they provide evidence of state-sponsored crime. Any documentation of that kind is valuable.

UPDATE, posted 12:53 PM, EST:

I’ll post more later, including details from the Wikileaks cables and interviews posted at AlJazeera.

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One comment

  1. Good webpage by Elsie Peckler

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