Egypt protests: change is coming, says Mohammed ElBaradei
Thousands rally in Cairo to defy curfew as Hillary Clinton calls on Hosni Mubarak to allow 'orderly transition'
Jack Shenker in Cairo and Ian Black, Middle East editor
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 30 January 2011 20.26 GMT
The Egyptian opposition leader, Mohamed ElBaradei, tonight predicted change within "the next few days" as western leaders pointedly declined to throw their support behind the country's embattled president, Hosni Mubarak.
In another dramatic day, thousands of protesters kept up the pressure on a defiant Mubarak amid sporadic violence and signs that the US and allies may ditch him unless he allows an "orderly transition".
ElBaradei, the former chief UN arms inspector and de facto leader of the opposition, called for the president to step down at once as demonstrators massed in Cairo's central Tahrir square to ignore a night-time curfew. ElBaradei, who is now backed by the powerful Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition groups, said he wanted to negotiate about a new government with the army, which he described as "part of the Egyptian people".
Military helicopters and F16 fighters were seen and heard overhead as crowds streamed towards the rally – an apparent show of force that provoked both fear and ridicule.
"The people want the regime to fall," protesters chanted as ElBaradei walked to the centre of the square. Tanks, many emblazoned with anti-Mubarak slogans, were stopped from entering.
"You are the owners of this revolution. You are the future," ElBaradei declared. "Our essential demand is the departure of the regime and the beginning of a new Egypt in which each Egyptian lives in virtue, freedom and dignity."
Mubarak was shown earlier on state TV conferring with his newly appointed vice-president, the intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, and senior generals – a clear attempt to demonstrate that he enjoys the solid support of the armed forces. Western diplomats said they saw no sign the military was prepared to ditch the president.
In other key developments:
• Al-Jazeera satellite TV was ordered to close because of its coverage of the protests.
• Thousands of prisoners, including Muslim Brotherhood activists, escaped from four jails.
• The death toll over the past six days was reported to have risen to 102.
• Large-scale protests erupted in Alexandria, Egypt's second city, after the funerals of victims of the unrest.
• British nationals in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez were told to leave if it was safe.
• The US said it was organising flights to evacuate its citizens and urged all Americans in Egypt to consider leaving.
Underlining international concern about the continuing crisis in the Arab world's largest country, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said she wanted Egyptians to have a chance to chart a new future. But she added pointedly: "It's not a question of who retains power. It's how are we going to respond to the legitimate needs and grievances expressed by the Egyptian people."
EU foreign ministers, meeting in Brussels tomorrow, are expected to echo that message. William Hague, Britain's foreign secretary, told Sky News there had to be a shift to an "open and democratic society", adding "whatever that means for President Mubarak." Clinton and Hague both alluded to fears of growing Islamist influence. "What we don't want," Clinton said, "are radical ideologies to take control of a very large and important country in the Middle East." David Cameron is understood to have had a "difficult" conversation with Mubarak on Saturday.
Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, told his cabinet he was "anxiously following" the crisis, warning that Israel's 30-year-old peace agreement with Egypt must be preserved amid concern about arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip. ElBaradei's emergence as the opposition candidate for a new government injected new drama into the crisis as Osama Ghazali Harb of the National Democratic Front talked of a "transitional administration" that would oversee the cancellation of the emergency laws and the release of all political prisoners.
It seems unlikely at this stage that the Mubarak government will agree to negotiate with ElBaradei, but the demand adds a significant new element to the drama.According to some reports police are due to return to the streets on Monday but the security of most neighbourhoods in Egypt lay in the hands of their citizens as residents set up makeshift barricades and formed local patrols to protect themselves from violence.
Egypt protests: Hosni Mubarak in frantic bid to cling on to power
President appoints intelligence chief to vice-president post as streets ring out to cry of 'Mubarak, your plane is ready'
Egypt protests - as they happened
• Mubarak's attempt to mollify demonstrators fails
• Intelligence chief appointed to vice-president post
• Sources say death toll from protests has risen above 100
• West toughens stance against Mubarak
David Batty and Alex Olorenshaw
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 29 January 2011 10.06 GMT
Mubarak's victims lay dead in a tiny, dimly lit room
The dead and wounded are piling up in Egypt's hospitals. Alastair Beach, himself hit by a rubber bullet, sees the human cost of a popular uprising
Sunday, 30 January 2011
They started Friday dreaming of a free Egypt. They ended it lying battered and bloodied in a hospital morgue. These were the victims of a repressive regime, and their own yearning for freedom.
The day after Egypt experienced the worst street violence since President Hosni Mubarak took power 30 years ago, some of the victims were being kept in a tiny room, little more than 10ft square, off a dimly lit corridor in the basement of the French Institute Hospital in central Cairo.
There were 12 in total, nearly all of them killed by shotguns used by riot police. A couple – including one policeman – were run over by riot vans. A doctor said she could see the vehicle's track marks embedded in the policeman's body when his corpse was delivered to the hospital late on Friday.
It was the same story yesterday elsewhere across the city. Twenty dead at the nearby Old Quasr-El-Eini Hospital along with 500 injured. Most of the dead had been shot. A further seven died at the Matrya Hospital in northern Cairo and at least 60 more were wounded, according to one doctor working there on the night.
They were the victims of an unprecedented day of violence on the streets of the Egyptian capital.
I had followed the frontline protesters as they broke through police lines and passed east across the Nile into downtown Tahrir Square on Friday afternoon.
Soon after entering the square I found myself crouched behind a makeshift barricade in the centre of the plaza about a hundred yards away from the lines of riot police. Next to me was a middle-aged womanstill carrying her leather handbag, standing tall and screaming at the police as teargas canisters exploded around us.
By 9.20pm the protesters were pushing south of Tahrir Square, up Quasr-El-Eini Street, closer and closer to the Parliament building. As blazing cars sent plumes of choking black smoke up into the air, fearless youngsters surged forward to hurl rocks while others ducked behind huge sheets of corrugated iron or ripped up sentry boxes.
Soon the riot police emerged on to the roof of a building overlooking the street and started firing down on the demonstrators. At about 10pm I was struck in the temple by a rubber bullet and was taken to the nearby French Institute Hospital.
Very little in life prepares you for the shock of being hit by a rubber bullet. This is going to sound ridiculous, but it feels like you have been struck by a golf ball, hit very hard straight at you. Blood poured down my face, but I was more shocked than in pain.
The scenes in the hospital were chaotic. Bare-chested men, their backs streaked with shotgun pellets, were being treated in the main arrival hallway. Car after car screeched up the gangway to the main entrance where limp, bloodstained men were unloaded and hauled into the hospital. Hysterical, screaming women cried out for their relatives, while doctors holding drips rushed critical patients through the corridors on clanking stretchers.
"It was like Hell," said Dr Ahmed Mawad, from the hospital's intensive care unit.
Egypt's military in a quandary
Al Jazeera's senior analyst Marwan Bishara sheds light on what the military is likely to do.
Marwan Bishara Last Modified: 29 Jan 2011 16:45 GMT
Cairo protesters stand their ground
Warplanes and helicopters flew over the main square and more army trucks appeared in a show of force but no one moved.
US reported 'routine' police brutality in Egypt, WikiLeaks cables show
Torture widely used against criminals, Islamist detainees, opposition activists and bloggers, embassy cables suggest
Police brutality in Egypt is "routine and pervasive" and the use of torture so widespread that the Egyptian government has stopped denying it exists, according to leaked cables released today by WikiLeaks.
The batch of US embassy cables paint a despairing portrait of a police force and security service in Egypt wholly out of control. They suggest torture is routinely used against ordinary criminals, Islamist detainees, opposition activists and bloggers.
"The police use brutal methods mostly against common criminals to extract confessions, but also against demonstrators, certain political prisoners and unfortunate bystanders. One human rights lawyer told us there is evidence of torture in Egypt dating back to the time of the pharoahs. NGO contacts estimate there are literally hundreds of torture incidents every day in Cairo police stations alone," one cable said.
Under Hosni Mubarak's presidency there had been "no serious effort to transform the police from an instrument of regime power into a public service institution", it said. The police's ubiquitous use of force had pervaded Egyptian culture to such an extent that one popular TV soap opera recently featured a police detective hero who beat up suspects to collect evidence.
A region in turmoil: How far will the unrest spread?
Thousands in Cairo defy curfew
At least three people killed as protesters attempt to storm the interior ministry in Cairo.
Egypt not trending in China
Beijing blocks searches for "Egypt" from microblogging site following protests there.
Egypt imposes night curfew after day of riots
By Maggie Michael and Hadeel Al-Shalchi
Friday, 28 January 2011
Robert Fisk: Egypt's day of reckoning
Mubarak regime may not survive new protests as flames of anger spread through Middle East
Friday, 28 January 2011
A day of prayer or a day of rage? All Egypt was waiting for the Muslim Sabbath today – not to mention Egypt's fearful allies – as the country's ageing President clings to power after nights of violence that have shaken America's faith in the stability of the Mubarak regime.
Five men have so far been killed and almost 1,000 others have been imprisoned, police have beaten women and for the first time an office of the ruling National Democratic Party was set on fire. Rumours are as dangerous as tear gas here. A Cairo daily has been claiming that one of President Hosni Mubarak's top advisers has fled to London with 97 suitcases of cash, but other reports speak of an enraged President shouting at senior police officers for not dealing more harshly with demonstrators.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the opposition leader and Nobel prize-winning former UN official, flew back to Egypt last night but no one believes – except perhaps the Americans – that he can become a focus for the protest movements that have sprung up across the country.
Already there have been signs that those tired of Mubarak's corrupt and undemocratic rule have been trying to persuade the ill-paid policemen patrolling Cairo to join them. "Brothers! Brothers! How much do they pay you?" one of the crowds began shouting at the cops in Cairo. But no one is negotiating – there is nothing to negotiate except the departure of Mubarak, and the Egyptian government says and does nothing, which is pretty much what it has been doing for the past three decades.
People talk of revolution but there is no one to replace Mubarak's men – he never appointed a vice-president – and one Egyptian journalist yesterday told me he had even found some friends who feel sorry for the isolated, lonely President. Mubarak is 82 and even hinted he would stand for president again – to the outrage of millions of Egyptians.
The barren, horrible truth, however, is that save for its brutal police force and its ominously docile army – which, by the way, does not look favourably upon Mubarak's son Gamal – the government is powerless. This is revolution by Twitter and revolution by Facebook, and technology long ago took away the dismal rules of censorship.
Mubarak's men seem to have lost all sense of initiative. Their party newspapers are filled with self-delusion, pushing the massive demonstrations to the foot of front pages as if this will keep the crowds from the streets – as if, indeed, by belittling the story, the demonstrations never happened.
But you don't need to read the papers to see what has gone wrong. The filth and the slums, the open sewers and the corruption of every government official, the bulging prisons, the laughable elections, the whole vast, sclerotic edifice of power has at last brought Egyptians on to their streets.
Amr Moussa, the head of the Arab League, spotted something important at the recent summit of Arab leaders at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. "Tunisia is not far from us," he said. "The Arab men are broken." But are they? One old friend told me a frightening story about a poor Egyptian who said he had no interest in moving the corrupt leadership from their desert gated communities. "At least we now know where they live," he said. There are more than 80 million people in Egypt, 30 per cent of them under 20. And they are no longer afraid.
And a kind of Egyptian nationalism – rather than Islamism – is making itself felt at the demonstrations. January 25 is National Police Day – to honour the police force who died fighting British troops in Ishmaelia – and the government clucked its tongue at the crowds, telling them they were disgracing their martyrs. No, shouted the crowds, those policemen who died at Ishmaelia were brave men, not represented by their descendants in uniform today.
Egyptian government on last legs, says ElBaradei
Exclusive: Mohamed ElBaradei says he is sending a message 'to the Guardian and to the world'
WikiLeaks cables show close US relationship with Egyptian president
US embassy cable predicted Hosni Mubarak, if still alive in 2011, would run again for presidency 'and, inevitably, win'
Egypt protesters prepare to return to streets
Opponents of Hosni Mubarak regime gather in Cairo prior to resumption of demonstrations, communications suggest
Egypt's government forbids more protests
By Alexander Dziadosz and Yasmine Saleh, Reuters
Wednesday, 26 January 2011
Egypt's frustrated young wait for their lives to begin, and dream of revolution
In Cairo, as in places all over the country, all eyes are fixed on the drama that is unfolding in Tunisia. Jack Shenker travelled across Egypt and heard people increasingly asking: could it happen here, and if so, when?
The Observer, Sunday 23 January 2011
News of the latest act of self-immolation in Egypt reached Waleed Shamad while he was sitting in the bourse, a dense warren of outdoor shisha cafes tucked away in the back alleys surrounding Cairo's old stock exchange.
An unemployed man had set himself alight in the middle of a busy street – the 12th such incident last week. According to a TV newsreader, the man, 35, had moved to the capital in the hope of finding work and saving enough to buy a home and get married, but lack of job opportunities had driven him to despair. "That could be a description of any of us," said Waleed, pulling his scarf tighter against the cold. "These human blazes are coming so fast, it's hard to keep track."
Cairo is a city built for sunny days and balmy nights; come winter the wind can lash with a ferocious bite. But that has not stopped Shamad and his friends gathering for their late-evening tea on the pavement to talk through the day's gossip: the Friday sermons devoted to Islam's disapproval of suicide, new government restrictions on buying bottled petrol, and, of course, all the latest from Tunis – where developments have kept the group glued to al-Jazeera TV for days.
"We couldn't believe our eyes," grinned Shamad, recalling the sight of Tunisia's ousted despot, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, fleeing a land he had ruled for 23 years. "I'm so proud of the Tunisian people. When you see a friend or brother succeeding in some great struggle, it gives you hope, hope for yourself and hope for your country."
In common with two-thirds of Egypt's population, Shamad has lived his entire life under the presidency of Hosni Mubarak, a key western ally whose three-decade grip over one of the most pivotal states in the Arab world has looked marginally more shaky following the events in Tunisia.
At 27, Shamad – university-educated, getting by on scraps of informal work and still living at home with his parents – is part of a demographic bulge that accounts for 90% of the country's unemployed, and whose simmering frustration, according to some analysts, could tip Egypt towards its own intifada – and unknown consequences for the rest of the Middle East. "Not having a regular job affects every aspect of your life practically and psychologically; almost everybody I know of my age is still unmarried and dependent on their families – it makes you feel hopeless," he said.
Last year's UN human development report for Egypt said many of the nation's young people were trapped in "waithood", defined as a prolonged period "during which they simply wait for their lives to begin". "It's not as if we want to sit here passively and accept the situation," Shamad said. "But the instinct of our generation is to avoid the state, not confront it. I know that there are big demonstrations planned for next Tuesday, but we're taught from birth to be fearful of the police. They know how to hurt you, and hurt the ones you love."
Tuesday's demonstrations will take the form of a nationwide set of anti-Mubarak protests, dubbed "revolution day" by opposition activists who hope that Tunisia's uprising will embolden the vast number of individuals like Shamad and persuade them that the time is right to make their voices heard.
"In every neighbourhood in the country there is a pressure point which the government is afraid of and which will be brought to the surface on Tuesday," said Ahmed al-Gheity, 23, a doctor and one of the regional organisers of "revolution day". On the event's Facebook page, tens of thousands of supporters have posted comments suggesting Ben Ali's departure could be the precursor for Mubarak's downfall. "If Tunisia can do it, why can't we?" read one. "We will either start living or start dying on 25 January."
Weary of the formal political arena, where even superficial opposition parties now find themselves blocked off from legitimate avenues of dissent (last November's blatantly rigged parliamentary ballot delivered a 93% majority to supporters of the ruling NDP), urban young Egyptians are instead carving out their own spaces in which alternative voices can be heard. If all 75,000 of those who have made an online promise to attend turn up on Tuesday, it will represent an organisational triumph. But such an outcome appears unlikely.
"At the informal level – blogs, social media – there's been an explosion of political activity, entirely disconnected from the official mechanisms of government," said Amr Hamzawy, research director at the Carnegie Middle East Centre in Beirut. Yet this dynamism has largely failed to spill on to the street, where Mubarak's ubiquitous security apparatus still maintains near-total control. The only sector of society that has succeeded in physically occupying areas controlled by the state is Egypt's beleaguered workforce, which has confronted the regime over a range of economic grievances and succeeded in extracting concessions.
"This is where the regime is most fearful," said Gamila Ismail, a dissident politician who unsuccessfully challenged the NDP in the recent elections. "They don't want the young, online activists with their political demands linking up and inspiring the labour force who are campaigning for a better standard of living. If youth in Cairo and Alexandria are connecting with Mahalla, then the government knows it is in trouble."
Sixty miles north of the capital, the textile town of El Mahalla el-Kubra has been the militant spearhead of an unprecedented wave of strikes and sit-ins sweeping Egypt over the last five years. In April 2008 a walkout by factory workers led to three people being shot dead by police.
The road to Mahalla passes through Cairo's urban hinterlands, which bleed messily into the Nile delta and surrounding desert – here the high walls of fast-proliferating gated communities for the rich look down on the redbrick clusters of ashwa'iyat, informal slum areas that are now home to 60% of the city's population. This is a clear window on to the hallmark of Mubarak's reign – a colossal appropriation of land and capital by the political and business elite.
Young residents of the private compounds live in a parallel universe from their slum counterparts, but both share a basic detachment from campaigns for political change of the sort planned for Tuesday. "Of course, we are all excited about Tunisia; the people there threw off their shackles and I pray we could do the same," said Mahmoud Abdel Halim, 29, a construction worker. "But I don't see how we could repeat Tunisia here. I haven't heard about any protests, and even if I had it's not like I can afford to stop work and go and get arrested."
Off Mahalla's main square, however, the picture was different. Last Friday a group of young people from across the delta was carefully preparing a series of Tunisian flags, pinning each to a short wooden pole. Others sketched out placards expressing Egypt's solidarity with Tunisia and condemning government corruption, police torture and poverty. When about 50 of them took to the streets in the late afternoon, handing out pamphlets advertising the protests on Tuesday, they were met with a bemused but generally positive response.
"I've never been on anything like this before, although my brother's friend was attacked by police back in April 2008," said one 26-year-old motorcyclist. "Circumstances have got pretty bad now, and I think changing the big sharks at the top is probably the only way we can make things better. I'll try and make it."
Back in their fifth-floor offices afterwards, the activists whooped and high-fived each other. "Yes, it was very small, but it showed that other young people are receptive to our energy," beamed Yasmeen Hamdy El-Fakharany. "I think 25 January will be a great success."
Not everyone agrees. Another 70 miles north-west, in a wood-panelled Alexandrian coffee shop facing the Mediterranean, Hossam al-Wakeel shook his head angrily at the suggestion that his own organisation, the Muslim Brotherhood, was betraying the anti-Mubarak movement by refusing to participate in Tuesday's "revolution day".
"Will those coming out on Tuesday bring down the regime? I think not," said al-Wakeel, 23, a journalist. "The Muslim Brotherhood believes that change must come from below, that we must rebuild society layer by layer as part of a gradual process, not chase revolution and impose new leaders from the top." Earnest, cardigan-clad and sporting a trim black beard, Wakeel explained why he had thrown in his lot with the only opposition movement that has the capacity to bring hundreds of thousands on to the streets – and yet persistently refuses to do so.
His vision of change in Egypt is far removed from that of the Tunisian-flag-waving activists in Mahalla. Yet both share a commitment to direct confrontation with the Mubarak regime, something which Cairo's Shamad – despite his deep anger – still considers too risky. Young inhabitants of the ashwa'iyat and their gated neighbours also feel severed from any process of political reform, although, if a spark were to set off a mass mobilisation in the streets, there can be little doubt many would quickly join in.
It seems doubtful that protests on Tuesday will provide that spark, although anything could transpire on the day. But when the spark does come, there can be no doubt the country's angry youth will be leading the way.