International

Egyptian Protesters Defy Curfew; President Dissolves Government

President Hosni Mubarak's Republican Guard deploy outside the national television building in Cairo. i i

President Hosni Mubarak's Republican Guard deploy outside the national television building in Cairo. Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images
President Hosni Mubarak's Republican Guard deploy outside the national television building in Cairo.

President Hosni Mubarak's Republican Guard deploy outside the national television building in Cairo.

Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images

The latest developments in Egypt, where anti-government protests continue (hit your "refresh" button to be sure you're seeing our latest additions):

Update at 6:55 p.m. ET: Local time in Cairo is 1:56 a.m. That late, there are two questions that likely hang over Egypt's unrest for a while: One, can President Mubarak be toppled? And the second is what that scenario would mean for Egypt and for the United States.

On the first question the Financial Times proposes that Mubarak's government depends on his relationship with the military. Mubarak like his predecessor has a military background. He was a commander of the air force and made his name in the 1973 war.

In its analysis, the FT says that while the military has been silent about their allegiances, their ties to the state run deep:

"In peacetime the Egyptian military has played a role in building infrastructure, such as roads and bridges. Its businesses range from bottling water to construction. The army is also intertwined with the state on many levels. Retired generals occupy many senior posts, including provincial governorships, chairmen of government agencies and public sector companies. The rationale for this is that their careers in the army have given them experience in leadership. "

As for the second question: The United States has had strong strong ties with Mubarak since he came into power in 1981. To put it in context, Egypt is only second to Israel in the amount of financial aid it receives from the United States.

MSNBC spoke to mideast experts who are divided on the chance of Mubarak's ouster. Steven Cook, a fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said in one scenario the military appoints a successor.

David Bender, a Middle East specialist at Eurasia Group, a political risk consulting firm in Washington, D.C., sets out another scenario in which an Islamist regime takes over Egypt:

"'The nightmare for the United States is a kind of replication of Iran in 1979, where there are huge protests against the authoritarian ruler identified as being close to the United States, and that ruler falls, and then the U.S. is left with very few levers of influence in the new regime,' he said.

"There is a sense among many Egyptians, he said, that much American aid 'goes directly or indirectly to supporting the security services, which have been used to suppress dissent. So there's a risk of there being significant anger at the United States.'"

Update at 6:37 p.m. ET: President Obama just made a brief statement about the situation in Egypt. He said he spoke to President Mubarak right after his speech and told him that Mubarak had a "responsibility to give meaning" to the promises he made about reforms.

"Going forward, this moment of volatility has to be turned into a moment of promise," he said.

He called on Mubarak to put reforms into motion, asked the Egyptian military to refrain from violence against protesters and said the government should turn the internet back on in the country.

Update at 6:24 p.m. ET: The AP reports that President Obama will make a statement shortly.

Update at 6:05 p.m. ET: Before Mubarak's speech, there were many reports that police and the military had essentially retreated from downtown Cairo. But Reuters reports that may be over:

"Egypt's army took control of Cairo's central Tahrir Square, which had been the focus for thousands of protesters trying to force their way to parliament.

"A Reuters witness saw more than 20 military vehicles move into the square shortly after midnight on Saturday, blanketing the area."

Demonstrators hold up the Egyptian flag as they stand next to a burning riot police vehicle in Cairo. i i

Demonstrators hold up the Egyptian flag as they stand next to a burning riot police vehicle in Cairo. Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images
Demonstrators hold up the Egyptian flag as they stand next to a burning riot police vehicle in Cairo.

Demonstrators hold up the Egyptian flag as they stand next to a burning riot police vehicle in Cairo.

Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images

Update at 5:29 p.m. ET: President Mubarak said he has asked the government to resign and he will appoint a new government tomorrow.

Update at 5:21 p.m. ET: President Mubarak is addressing the country on state television. He says he regrets the casualties and that he has instructed police and the military to respect people's right to demonstrations. But there is a "fine line between chaos and freedom."

He says he will embrace reform. He said they will take steps toward more "democracy," and to reduce unemployment.

Update at 4:42 p.m. ET: State television is reporting that the speaker of Egypt's People's Assembly will make "an important announcement," soon.

The Guardian writes:

The speaker of the assembly is the first in the line of succession to become president of Egypt if the incumbent dies or is incapacitated.

Update at 3:59 p.m. ET: Stepping back quite a bit is Robyn Creswell, of the Paris Review writing for N+1, who writes what might have brought these protests to a boil:

— The first reason is Tunisa: "It is true that Tunisia is a small country that plays a minor role on the international stage, while Egypt is a linchpin of regional governance and one of the US's closest allies," writes Creswell. "But both regimes are reviled by much of their citizenry as corrupt and brutal gerontocracies."

— Creswell says some of the leaked documents released by WikiLeaks angered Egyptians because it showed just how much Egypt and Israel worked together.

— The third reason quoted by Creswell is resentment after parliamentary elections, where the ruling party "won" 93 percent of the seats in the national assembly.

Update at 3:39 p.m. ET: Most of the day, Al Jazeera has been reporting that protesters on the street are expressing their anger toward the U.S. They report that one of them picked up a rubber bullet and showed it to the reporter saying it was made in the U.S. The Egyptian military is subsidized by the U.S. Sarah Carr, a journalist living in Cairo, uploaded this picture to Flickr. It shows a tear-gas canister inscribed with the words, "Made In U.S.A."

A tear gas canister inscribed with the words Made In USA. i i

A tear gas canister inscribed with the words Made In USA. Sarah Carr/via Flickr hide caption

itoggle caption Sarah Carr/via Flickr
A tear gas canister inscribed with the words Made In USA.

A tear gas canister inscribed with the words Made In USA.

Sarah Carr/via Flickr

Update at 3:18 p.m. ET: White House Press secretary Robert Gibbs is at the podium. A couple of interesting points: President Obama has not spoken to President Mubarak. And when asked if Obama stands by Mubarak, Gibbs said that this wasn't about "picking a person or picking the people of a country."

He called the situation "fluid." And confirmed that the U.S. was reviewing its "assistance posture."

Update at 2:58 p.m. ET: We're awaiting the White House press briefing, which promises more on the Obama administration's reaction to the protests but the AP is reporting that the U.S. will review it's $1.5 billion aid package to Egypt:

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the situation. Egypt has been a key US ally in the volatile region. US officials are now increasing calls on President Hosni Mubarak, the target of the protesters, to respond with restraint and reverse steps taken to cut off the protesters' ability to communicate.

The decision to review assistance to Egypt is a significant step as the U.S. seeks to balance the desire to maintain stability in the region with a recognition of the unexpected scope and uncertain outcome of the protests.

Update at 2:53 p.m. ET: Earlier in the day, state television was transmitting only images of the Cairo skyline, which showed no hint of the unrest on the streets. The Guardian reports something different, now:

Meanwhile, Nile TV, the Egyptian state broadcaster, is now also showing footage of the protests – perhaps a significant event, since it contadicts the broadcaster's earlier footage.

Update at 2:49 p.m. ET: NPR's Andy Carvin has written up a nice roundup of people to follow on Twitter who are keeping up with the protests.

Update at 1:54 p.m. ET: Al Jazeera reports that the building of the National Democratic Party — Egypt's ruling party — can't be seen because of the smoke. They also showed pictures of young Egyptians looting NDP headquarters. From one of their reporter's vantage point, it looks like six floors of the headquarters are on fire.

Update at 1:52 p.m. ET: The AP just posted a video of Mohamed ElBaradei, the Egyptian opposition leader under house arrest. In in it, he says that the outside world should "practice what you preach" and "defend the rights of the Egyptian to their universal values."

Update at 1:44 p.m. ET: Those images from Al Jazeera were of people cheering the a presidential guard convoy. Al Jazeera reports that the guard was headed toward state TV headquarters.

Update at 1:36 p.m. ET: Al Jazeera just aired some stunning images from Cairo: Military tanks rolled through the city as protesters cheered them on. Some of the soldiers could be seen peeking out from the top of the vehicles and engaging with the protesters.

Update at 1:32 p.m. ET: Lots has been made about what kind of role social media has played in these protests. Foreign Policy talked to Jillian York, project coordinator for the OpenNet Initiative at Harvard's Berkman Center and writer on Middle Eastern politics and the Internet for Global Voices. She said the fact that people are still out protesting after internet was cut off says a lot:

JK: I read your piece a couple of days ago on how the demonstrators are using social media. Has the black-out changed your views?

JY: You can say, "Wow, it's a 'Facebook revolution' or a 'Twitter revolution', but as soon as these are cut off, it will be interesting to see what the success of this is without social media. It's early to judge, but from what we've been seeing, it seems that people are still out there and still organizing despite this. They definitely seemed prepared for what happens when the Internet gets shut off.

An Egyptian police officer fires tear gas at demonstrators in Cairo. i i

An Egyptian police officer fires tear gas at demonstrators in Cairo. Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images
An Egyptian police officer fires tear gas at demonstrators in Cairo.

An Egyptian police officer fires tear gas at demonstrators in Cairo.

Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images

Update at 12:46 p.m. ET: Al Jazeera reports that tanks are rumbling through the streets of Alexandria. The reporter said protesters seemed to be welcoming the military.

Update at 12:44 p.m. ET: Quoting Egyptian State TV, the Guardian reports that the curfew has now been extended to the whole country.

Update at 12:42 p.m. ET: Here is text of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's remarks:

"I would like to say something about the unfolding events in Egypt. We continue to monitor the situation closely. We are deeply concerned about the use of violence by Egyptian police and security forces against protesters and we call on the Egyptian government to do everything in its power to restrain the security forces. At the same time, protesters should also refrain from violence and express themselves peacefully.

"As we have repeatedly said, we support the universal human rights of the Egyptian people, including the right to freedom of expression, of association and of assembly. We urge the Egyptian authorities to allow peaceful protests and to reverse the unprecedented steps it has taken to cut off communications.

"These protests underscore that there are deep grievances within Egyptian society, and the Egyptian government needs to understand that violence will not make these grievances go away.

"As President Obama said yesterday, reform is absolutely critical to the well-being of Egypt. Egypt has long been an important partner of the United States on a range of regional issues. As a partner, we strongly believe that the Egyptian government needs to engage immediately with the Egyptian people in implementing needed economic, political and social reforms. We continue to raise with the Egyptian government, as we do with other governments in the region, the imperative for reform and greater openness and participation, to provide a better future for all. We want to partner with the Egyptian people and their government to realize their aspirations to live in a democratic society that respects basic human rights.

"When I was recently in the region, I met with a wide range of civil society groups, and I heard from them about ideas aimed at improving their countries. The people of the Middle East - like people everywhere - are seeking a chance to contribute and to have a role in the decisions that will shape their lives. As I said in Doha, leaders need to respond to these aspirations to build a better future, and they need to view civil society as a partner, not a threat."

Update at 12:36 p.m. ET: The New York Times' Lede Blog points to dramatic video shot by Mohamed Ibrahim Elmasry, a professor emeritus of computer science at a Canadian university who is in Cairo. It shows how protesters overtook police on Qasr al-Nil bridge, which leads to Tahrir Square. This video shows that moment:

Update at 12:33 p.m. ET: The AP is reporting that protesters are attempting to storm the foreign ministry and state TV buildings in Cairo.

Update at 12:24 p.m. ET: Speaking to press, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. was deeply "concerned" about the situation in Egypt. She said it is time for the Mubarak government to engage immediately with the Egyptian people to implement "needed" economic, political and social reforms.

Update at 12:16 p.m. ET: Local time in Cairo is 7:16 p.m. protesters are not heeding the curfew which started about an hour ago.

Update at 12:08 p.m. ET: In an interview with PBS' Newshour, Vice President Joe Biden said Mubarak is not a dictator and that it's time for reform but not necessarily time for Mubarak to step down.

"Look, Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things," Biden said. "And he's been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interests in the region: Middle East peace efforts, the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing the relationship with Israel.

"I think that ... I would not refer to him as a dictator."

The interview with Biden was conducted yesterday. He also said it was time for Mubarak to move in a direction "to be more responsive to the needs of some of the people out there."

Update at 11:53 a.m. ET: Al Jazeera (watch live), the AP and others are reporting that at least part of the headquarters building for Egypt's ruling party, the NDP, is on fire in Cairo.

Update at 11:32 a.m. ET: Al Jazeera and the AP are reporting that the Egyptian military has deployed to the streets of Cairo for the first time in the crisis.

Update at 11:28 a.m. ET: U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley has tweeted a number of times about the situation in Egypt, including this note about 30 minutes ago:

Reform is vital to #Egypt's long-term well-being. The Egyptian government should view its people as a partner and not as a threat.

Update at 11:23 a.m. ET: The AP reports that several policeman in downtown Cairo stripped off their uniforms and joined protesters, who then hoisted the men onto their shoulders.

Update at 10:48 a.m. ET: Navi Pillay, the U.N. human rights chief, released a statement saying Egypt has arrested more than 1,000 people during the ongoing protests. Pillay called on the government to respect the people's right to express themselves:

"'I call on the Government to take concrete measures to guarantee the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, including by restoring free use of mobile phones and social networks,' she said."

Update at 10:28 a.m. ET: Egyptian state TV has announced a 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez.

Update at 10:20 a.m. ET: Virtually all Internet service into and out of Egypt was cut off during the night, an apparent attempt by the government to hamper communication between protesters who have used social networking sites such as Facebook to coordinate their efforts.

Tech observers such as James Cowie on the renesys blog have noted that the elimination of service stands in stark contrast to Tunisia and Iran, where government efforts to manipulate the Internet were more selective and sophisticated.

An Egyptian protester flashes Egypt's flag as anti-riot policemen use water canon against demonstrators in Cairo today (Jan. 28, 2011). i i

An Egyptian protester flashes Egypt's flag as anti-riot policemen use water canon against demonstrators in Cairo today (Jan. 28, 2011). Lefteris Pitarakis/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Lefteris Pitarakis/AP
An Egyptian protester flashes Egypt's flag as anti-riot policemen use water canon against demonstrators in Cairo today (Jan. 28, 2011).

An Egyptian protester flashes Egypt's flag as anti-riot policemen use water canon against demonstrators in Cairo today (Jan. 28, 2011).

Lefteris Pitarakis/AP

The AP reports that cell phone service has also been disrupted:

Cell-phone text and Blackberry Messenger services were all cut or operating sporadically in what appeared to be a move by authorities to disrupt the organization of demonstrations.

Egyptians outside the country were posting updates on Twitter after getting information in voice calls from people inside the country. Many urged their friends to keep up the flow of information over the phones.

Update at 9:50 a.m. ET: A fresh sign that investors are taking the grass roots protests in the streets of Cairo, Suez and elsewhere seriously just came across the wires with the news that Fitch Ratings has downgraded its outlook on Egypt from "Stable" to "Negative." The downgrade comes a day after Egypt's benchmark stock index dropped by more than 10 percent in one trading session.

Update at 9:33 a.m. ET: The AP is reporting that Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace laureate who returned to Egypt yesterday to join the protests, is now under house arrest.

Update at 8:45 a.m. ET: The latest report from the Associated Press begins with this:

"Egypt's capital was the scene of violent chaos Friday as tens of thousands of anti-government protesters stoned and confronted police, who fired back with rubber bullets and tear gas a major escalation in the biggest challenge to President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule. Even a Nobel Peace laureate was soaked by water cannon and forced to take refuge in a mosque."

Update at 8:15 a.m. ET: On Morning Edition just moments ago, NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reported from Cairo about a march she followed. About 10,000 people, she says, tried to enter Tahir Square — center stage for this week's demonstrations. "The police basically blocked off the people" and prevented them from getting to the square, Soraya says. Then, police started lobbying "so much tear gas" that it spread across the neighborhood and some people were "fainting on the streets."

Update at 8 a.m. ET: Al Jazerra English is streaming its coverage here. Its correspondent just reported that police did use tear gas and water cannons on people leaving the mosque where Mohamed ElBaradei and his supporters had prayed today.

Update at 7:55 a.m. ET. ElBaradei And Supporters Sprayed. The Associated Press reports that:

"Police also used water cannons against Egypt's pro-democracy leader Mohamed ElBaradei and his supporters as they joined the latest wave of protests after noon prayers. [And] police used batons to beat some of ElBaradei's supporters, who surrounded him to protect him. A soaking wet ElBaradei was trapped inside a mosque nearly an hour after [he and his] supporters were water cannoned."

Update at 7:50 a.m. ET: From Alexandria, CNN's Nic Robertson reports that "older men calm younger protesters, talk to police in teargas-filled streets, calming v volatile sitations, police fall back."

Update at 7:25 a.m. ET: NBC News' Richard Engel reports (via Twitter) from Cairo that there are "running battles with riot police, demonstators breaking street stones to throw at police."

Update at 6:55 a.m. ET: CNN now writes that "police fired tear gas into crowds Friday as violent clashes between authorities and anti-government protesters broke out in Alexandria, Egypt. At least 1,000 protesters had gathered, and youths hurled rocks through black clouds of gas. Crowds ran through the streets toward the city's central square."

Our original post, from 6:45 a.m. ET:

Police in Cairo "fired rubber bullets at thousands of protesters who had gathered outside the prominent al-Azhar mosque" in the past hour, a witness tells Reuters.

The news service adds that "the crowd threw stones at police lines and shouted slogans against President Hosni Mubarak, 82, and his son, Gamal, 47, who many Egyptian believe is being groomed for future office."

Al Jazeera writes that "protests have erupted in cities across Egypt following Friday prayers, with angry demonstrators seeking a change in government. Rawya Rageh, Al Jazeera's correspondent reporting from the port city of Alexandria, said protesters streamed out of mosques to chant slogans against Hosni Mubarak, the country's president for 30 years. Police reponded by firing tear gas in a bid to disperse the angry crowd."

CNN's Nic Robertson just tweeted that:

— "Several hundred riot police w/sticks rubber bullet guns surround central mosque, crowd 500-1000 in street outside-both sides tense nervous"

— "running street battles, tear gas and rocks, feel it in nose throat and eyes."

StoryfulPro is curating tweets about what's happening in Egypt here.

The BBC says that "there were reports of fresh clashes overnight, as well as opposition figures being arrested."

And on Morning Edition, NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson told host Steve Inskeep that many people in Cairo are afraid to come out in the streets. The government has tried to make it more difficult for protesters to organize by cutting off the Internet and cellphone services.

As we reported late yesterday, today's protests are expected to be the biggest so far and were to get started after mid-day prayers in the Islamic nation. There have been anti-government demonstrations in Cairo and Suez each day this week — protests inspired at least in part by recent events in Tunisia, where protests led to the fall of the authoritarian government.

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