Saturday, January 29, 2011

London's all-encompassing student protests

Thousands of students took to the streets of London Saturday in the latest protest against tuition fee hikes. The march was meant to end at the ruling Conservative Party’s headquarters, but protesters proceeded to the Egyptian embassy.In the first major demonstrations since late last year, thousands of students in London and the northern English city of Manchester took to the streets protesting the Conservative-led coalition government’s hike in university tuition fees. Drawn up as part of a massive austerity overhaul, the reform will see students at English universities paying as much as 9,000 pounds (10,000 euros) per year for their studies, up from 3,290 pounds.

Previous protests over the controversial fee hike have descended into violence, notably a December 10, 2010, demonstration, when hundreds of students attacked a car containing Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall as parliamentarians voted to increase tuition fees.

Saturday’s protests in London were largely peaceful, although scuffles between demonstrators and police broke out in Manchester.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has argued that students will benefit from the reform because they’re no longer expected to pay their fees upfront. But the worry is that students from poorer, traditionally debt-averse backgrounds, will be daunted by the prospect of loans that could take decades to pay.

Laurie, an 18-year-old student from Brighton who declined to provide his last name, had planned to study to become a paramedic. But he told FRANCE 24 that he had been scared off by the changes. “I’d be looking at leaving university with at least 30,000 [pounds in debt]. I highly doubt I’ll be able to go. Does the government want doctors, scientists, politicians for the future?”
‘Destroying a generation’

The government has said it will use the increased fees - starting in 2012 - to cover massive cuts to the higher education budget. Students only start paying back their debt once they earn over 21,000 pounds a year. But the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), a London-based economic research organization, says that the average student will never pay back their loan in full because of a 30-year cut-off point, after which the loan is wiped out by the state treasury.

A group of students with scarves covering their faces who declined to be named, told FRANCE 24 that the reform would “destroy our whole generation in terms of jobs and education”.
Losing steam

The march was supposed to end on Millbank, a central London street where the ruling Conservative Party’s headquarters are located. However, the entrance to the building was blocked by security after last year’s protests ended in violent clashes between protesters and police.

Lacking direction, protesters began to trail off in various directions. Antonia Bright, from the London-based civil rights group, Movement for Justice, complained of a lack of momentum. “It felt powerful in previous protests. [What we’ve seen] today communicates that people are quieter now.”

From David Cameron... to Hosni Mubarak

Large numbers of Egyptians had tagged along to the protests to voice their discontent with their own government, and in particular, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. In light of the new addition, the student protesters decided to join them in heading to the Egyptian embassy in London’s upmarket Mayfair district not far from the Conservative Party headquarters.

One of them, Gavin (who declined to give his last name) from Sunderland, explained the last-minute coalition. “What’s going on in Egypt - the cuts in food and fuel subsidies - was born out of the financial crisis. So was the increase in fees here. It’s all linked”, he said.
The Egyptians certainly didn’t seem to mind. One protester, when asked if he was happy to unite with thousands of angry students, grinned and shouted, “We’re happy to have support from anybody!”

ISRAEL:Recent unrest in Arab world is not about us

How the Egyptian revolution debunks the Israel-is-the-cause-of-Mideast-instability myth.
From an Israeli perspective, one of the most striking elements of the evolving revolution in Egypt, Tunisia and other parts of the Arab world is the degree to which all of this is not about us.For the tens of thousands of protesters who took to Egypt’s streets over the weekend, defying the curfew and calling for the departure of President Hosni Mubarak, Israel and the Palestinians were simply not on the agenda.
And the same was the case during the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia earlier this month, and in the demonstrations intermittently taking place in Jordan, Yemen, Algeria and Morocco. No cries of death to Israel, no signs to “lift the siege” of Gaza, no chants against housing projects in Ariel.

And to all those who would answer this by asking what kind of egotistical people would think that everything is about them, that they are the center of all regional developments, just consider what everyone from US President Barack Obama, to US Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and to French President Nicolas Sarkozy have been saying for years: that the Israeli-Palestinian issue is the main source of foment and ferment in the Middle East.

Remove that source of antagonism, this argument ran, move Israel out of the West Bank, stop building a new apartment complex in Gilo, and stability would be much easier to bring to the region.

Really? Truly? Let’s imagine that two years ago Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had accepted with open arms Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s offer of a Palestinian state on nearly 95 percent of the land, with a land swap for the rest, half of Jerusalem and an international consortium in control of the “Holy Basin,” would Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia not have set himself on fire, would rivers of people not be marching now in Egypt against Mubarak’s autocratic regime?

It’s clear that the tidal wave of popular anger against the Arab world’s “moderate” regimes would be washing over those regimes regardless of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

Why? Because Middle East instability is not about us – it is about them. It is about Arab unemployment, and Arab poverty, and Arab despair of a better future.

One of the axioms repeated ad nauseum over the years by pundits around the world is that Arab despair breeds the radicalism that breeds the terrorism, and that the source of that despair is the Palestinian issue. Take that issue away and there will be far less despair, and thus far less terrorism. Hogwash.

True, there is hopelessness in the Arab world – but the source is not the Arab masses concern about the Palestinians; the source is the Arab masses concern about their own lives, their own unemployment and their own lack of freedoms. Fix that and you get stability; ignore that, and you get revolution.

But everyone – led by the US under Obama and the EU – ignored that, fixating instead on the building of another house in Ramat Shlomo, another apartment unit in Efrat. How many times have international leaders bewailed the humanitarian situation in east Jerusalem and in Gaza? How many statements have been issued expressing righteous indignation and concern? And, by comparison, how much attention did these same leaders pay to the humanitarian situation in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Morocco, Jordan and Algeria – in the “moderate” Arab states. And which situation, really, threatens the stability of the region?

The Middle East is now at a crossroads. There is a democratic moment fast approaching, but one looks at it with fear and trembling. The events in Tunisia and now in Egypt may indeed represent the Arab world’s first popular revolutions, but they are by far not the world’s first revolutions.

The fear and trembling is that what happened in France in 1789, in Russia in 1917 and in Iran in 1979 will repeat itself in Egypt and the Arab world in 2011. After the old was thumped out by the new in those countries, there was a brief moment when democratic forces arose – be it the National Constituent Assembly and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in France, Alexander Kerensky in Russia, or Shapour Bakhtiar in Iran – only to be swept away by the radicals: Robespierre in Paris, the Bolsheviks in Moscow, Ayatollah Khomeini in Teheran.

In Egypt, too, democratic forces are on the march, but the radical extremists are lurking in the shadows, ready to pounce.

None of this, of course, gets Israel off the hook. The conflict with the Palestinians is real, it’s acute and huge efforts must be found to try and justly manage if not solve it. But this conflict also must be put in its proper perspective; it must not be magnified far beyond its true dimensions.

When WikiLeaks began publishing US diplomatic cables in November, the world got a good glance at the degree to which the Arab leaders themselves did not see Israel – but rather Iran – as their main threat and the primary source of regional instability.

Now on the streets of Cairo, Tunis and Saana, the world is getting a good glance at what the people see as the main threat – their own governments.

Neither the people, nor the leaders, are holding Israel and the Palestinians up as the main problem. Is the West listening? Is Obama?

Egypt protesters welcome army as it projects power

Anti-government protesters on Saturday embraced troops sent out to the streets to restore order — an outpouring of affection and faith that the soldiers are on their side.
The soldiers went along — despite a government ban on all public gatherings issued after the protests began Tuesday.
Troops allowed protesters to climb atop tanks and armored personnel carriers — an apparent attempt to show impartiality in the showdown between President Hosni Mubarak and tens of thousands of protesters demanding his ouster.
Why the soft approach?
Was the army caught between the two sides and paralyzed by uncertainty? Or simply biding its time before what could become a violent showdown with the citizens on the streets, some calling for change while others simply loot.
The army, a secretive organization that traditionally shuns media attention, offered confusing clues: treating protesters with kid gloves while issuing a single public statement warning of harsh measures against those violating a nighttime curfew or an official ban on public gatherings.
Only one thing was certain: the army remains the most powerful institution in this suddenly chaotic nation, and whatever it does next will determine the future of the Arab world's most populous country.
On Saturday, protesters jubilantly climbed atop army tanks and armored personnel carriers enforcing security in Cairo. They hugged and kissed the soldiers and posed for photographs with them. Some spray-painted the military vehicles with slogans demanding the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.
In Tahrir Square in the center of the city, protesters hoisted an army officer waving an Egyptian flag on their shoulders and chanted "The people and the army are one hand together!"
The protests drove Mubarak to appoint intelligence chief Omar Suleiman as vice president on Saturday, clearly setting up a succession that would hand power to his close confidant, a former army general, and keep control of Egypt in the hands of military men.
There were signs that the move could exhaust demonstrators' affection for the military — many protesters said the appointment was cronyism and the government needed purging from the top.
"If he is appointed by Mubarak, then he is just one more member of the gang," 43-year-old teacher Rafaat Mubarak, no relation to the president, said in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria. "We are not speaking about a branch in a tree, we are talking about the roots."
The military appeared to be going to great lengths to calm the country without appearing opposed to the protests. While there was no evidence of a large-scale fraying of soldiers' loyalty, they were taking pains not to antagonize demonstrators. At least one officer in Cairo ordered his troops to avoid even pushing them.
Egypt's 500,000-man army has long enjoyed the respect of citizens who perceive it as the country's least corrupt and most efficient public institution, particularly compared to a police force notorious for heavy handedness and corruption. It is touted as having defeated Israel in the 1973 Mideast War, and revered for that role.
The military, for its part, sees itself as the guarantor of national stability and above the political fray, loyal to both the government and what it sees as the interests of the general population.
The military has given Egypt all of its four presidents since the monarchy was toppled in 1952. The 82-year-old Mubarak is former chief of the air force.
It was not clear if the unrest still surging in Cairo and around the country would end up pushing the army to abandon either its easygoing stance toward the demonstrators, or its loyalty to the regime.
Some soldiers stood by Friday night and watched as looters sat upon supermarkets, shopping malls, police stations and nightclubs.
The army's enforcing order on the streets would risk the goodwill of some of the protesters although many fearful of disorder and looting would welcome it. A possible shift in the military was already evident on Saturday.
It warned it would deal harshly with "violators" and strongly advised against breaching the nighttime curfew or joining gatherings.
The military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Sami Hafez Anan, cut short a visit to the United States and flew back to Cairo on Friday night.
Although it has almost completely withdrawn from politics since 1952, the army has added to its strength by venturing into economic activity, playing a growing role in such key service industries as food production and construction.
It stepped in 2008 during an acute shortage of bread, Egypt's main stable, which it provided from its own bakeries. It has since opened outlets for basic food items sold as vastly discounted prices.
The army was clearly projecting an image of being the ultimate power in the country, moving swiftly to protect the state TV building, parliament, the prime minister's office and the Egyptian Museum, home to priceless artifacts dating back 5,000 years.

Bloodshed on the streets as human price of Hosni Mubarak's clampdown emerges

The full horror of Egypt's political convulsions has emerged, as relatives gathered at morgues filled with bodies and doctors described their heroic efforts to save the wounded.
As President Hosni Mubarak installed his head of intelligence as the first vice-president of his 30-year rule in a desperate effort to cling to power, it became clear that the death toll from the past two days of violent disturbances was even higher than officials claimed.
A tally of credible figures from around Egypt collated by The Sunday Telegraph showed that at least 89 people had died, compared with the 62 admitted by officials on Saturday. A further 2,500 were said to have been injured.
Among the dead were 10 policemen — some had been attacked by protesters. The civilian dead and injured included many shot with live rounds: doctors and protesters displayed bullets they had picked up from the streets after police — and in some cases soldiers — opened fire.
The use of live ammunition against his people, with witnesses claiming that deadly rounds had been fired by units of the elite presidential guard, throws into further doubt continued American support for Mr Mubarak’s regime.
President Barack Obama telephoned his counterpart late on Friday night to urge the 82-year-old leader to take concrete steps toward reform. “Violence will not address the grievances of the Egyptian people, and suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away,” he said after the 30-minute conversation.David Cameron, the Prime Minister, last night spoke to President Mubarak and expressed his “grave concern” at the violence on the streets. A Downing Street spokesman said: “He emphasised that violent repression of peaceful protest was wrong and counterproductive.
“The Prime Minister urged the president to take bold steps to accelerate political reform and build democratic legitimacy, which should be reflected by an inclusive government with the credibility to carry this agenda forward.”
William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, urged Mr Mubarak to make “real and visible” reforms, adding: “We call on the government to exercise restraint and on the Egyptian people to pursue their legitimate grievances peacefully.”
Yesterday, protesters again defied tanks, bullets and a curfew to gather in Cairo and demand the removal of their president. There were scenes of high emotion at morgues around the country as wailing families demanded the bodies of those killed on Friday.
There were clashes in towns and cities across the country, as the wave of protests — now entering its sixth day and inspired by Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution — showed little sign of abating.
Political prisoners went on the rampage in two prisons and at least 1,000 protesters throwing Molotov cocktails tried to ransack the Interior Ministry before police opened fire with live rounds, killing at least three people. There were similar protests in Alexandria, and in Suez hundreds joined in demonstrations. Thousands of foreign tourists spent the day at Cairo’s international airport as they tried to escape.
British Airways chartered a plane to bring home Britons who wanted to abandon their holidays early, although a spokesman said there were no plans for a mass evacuation.
A British Midland flight to Cairo, with 64 passengers on board, turned back midway because of the unrest and other airlines altered their schedules to avoid arriving after the 4pm curfew.
At least 25,000 Britons were holidaying at the heavily-guarded resort of Sharm-el-Sheikh and were said to be in no danger. Security forces maintained a ring round the resort, with police officers manning checkpoints along all major roads to protect the tourists and the vital source of foreign revenue which they represent. The Foreign Office warned against all but essential travel to the main cities of Egypt, including tourist sites such as Luxor, but did not include the Red Sea resort.
Armoured personnel carriers and tanks moved into the historic Cairo suburb of Giza to protect the pyramids.
President Mubarak announced early yesterday morning that he was to fire his entire cabinet and replace all his ministers in an attempt to assuage popular anger. It was the clearest indication yet that the man once considered “president for life” now knows he is locked in a battle for survival.
Within hours, Ahmed Shafiq, the country’s aviation minister and, like Mr Mubarak, a former head of the Egyptian Air Force, was appointed prime minister. But his decision to install his close confidant, Mr Suleiman, 72, as vice-president, provoked the anger of Egyptians campaigning for the end of Mr Mubarak’s autocratic, police state.
“He is just like Mubarak, there is no change,” said a protester outside the Interior Ministry.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the Egyptian former head of the UN’s nuclear energy inspection agency, who has emerged as a voice of the country’s opposition flew into Cairo on Friday. He said appointing a new vice-president and prime minister would not be enough to end the revolt.
“The system of Hosni Mubarak has failed to achieve the political, economic and social demands of the Egyptian people and we want to build a new Egypt founded on freedom, democracy and social justice,” he told Al Jazeera, the news channel. “The main demand is that President Mubarak announces clearly that he will resign, or that he will not run again.”
In a separate interview with a French television station, Mr ElBaradei said: “The protests will continue with even more intensity until the Mubarak regime falls.”
The elevation of Mr Suleiman — who has made a career of stamping down on Islamist opposition while forging closer relations with Israel — offers a possible route to the exit door for Mr Mubarak when presidential elections are held later this year.
The intelligence chief has long been tipped as the likeliest successor from within the regime, if Mr Mubarak shelved plans to groom Gamal, his US-educated son, for the job. Gordon Thomas, a British intelligence analyst, said the urbane spymaster, with clipped English vowels and a neat moustache, was well-regarded by his counterparts in MI6, the CIA and Mossad.
“He has been advising Mubarak to be very careful with the military and urged him to promise to meet the protesters, so he has a good sense of the changes that need to be made,” he said. “The question is whether Mubarak will allow him to do that.”
Last night there were unconfirmed rumours that younger members of the family — including Gamal — were fleeing to London.
The upheavals, and Mr Mubarak’s response to them, leave Western powers in an awkward situation as they support protesters’ calls for democratic reforms, but without the bringing down of their most useful Arab allies.
On Saturday, doctors gave vivid accounts of the savagery that erupted for a short while in Cairo.
Dr Mona Mina, who treated protesters at a makeshift aid station close to Tahrir Square throughout Friday night, the main scene of demonstrations in Cairo, said patients claimed they had been shot by members of the Egyptian Presidential Guard. “This was not trying to frighten people,” she said. “When you shoot into the head and chest you are killing people.”
There are fears that a political vacuum in Egypt could allow the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s powerful Islamist opposition, which is officially banned.
The organisation stayed out of the protests until Thursday. Yesterday it called for Mr Mubarak to leave the country after more than 350 of its members were arrested.
“Go Mubarak, have mercy on this people and leave so as not to increase the destruction of Egypt,” said Yusuf al-Qaradawi, one of the movement’s spiritual leaders, who lives in Qatar.
Protesters remained on the streets after darkness fell as reports circulated that some police officers had taken refuge inside mosques to avoid the protesters’ wrath.
In Iran, Mir Hossein Mousavi, the main opposition leader, said the demonstrations in Egypt and Tunisia were similar to those that shook Tehran in 2009. “The Middle East is on the threshold of great events these days that can affect the fate of the region and the world.”

Pressure builds on Mubarak

The United States and other leading European nations have urged Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, to refrain from violence against unarmed protesters and work to create conditions for free and fair elections.

Washington told Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Saturday it was not enough simply to "reshuffle the deck" with a shake-up of his government and pressed him to make good on his promise of genuine reform.

"The Egyptian government can't reshuffle the deck and then stand pat," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in a message on after Mubarak fired his government but made clear he had no intention of stepping down.

"President Mubarak's words pledging reform must be followed by action," he said, echoing Obama's appeal on Friday for Mubarak to embrace a new political dynamic.

In a statement released in Berlin on Saturday, the leaders of Britain, France and Germany said they were "deeply worried about the events in Egypt".

"We call on President Mubarak to renounce any violence against unarmed civilians and to recognise the demonstrators' peaceful rights," the joint statement said.

"We call on President Mubarak to begin a transformation process that should be reflected in a broadly based government, as well as free and fair elections."

The European trio appealed on Mubarak to respond to his people's grievances and take steps to improve the human rights situation in the country.

"We recognise the balanced role that President Mubarak has played for many years in the Middle East. We call on him to adopt the same moderate approach to the current situation in Egypt," the statement said.

"Human rights and democratic freedom must be fully recognised, including freedom of expression and assembly, and the free use of means of communication such as telephone and Internet.

"The Egyptian people have legitimate grievances and have put great hope in a just and better future."

Vice-president appointed

Earlier on Saturday, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak appointed the country's head of intelligence to the post of vice-president, in a move said to be a reaction to days of anti-government protests in cities across the country.

Omar Soleiman was sworn in on Saturday, the first time Mubarak appointed a vice-president during his 30-year rule. Ahmad Shafiq, a former chief of air staff, was appointed prime minister.

But Al Jazeera's correspondents in Egypt have said that many of those taking to the streets demand a total change of guard, as opposed to a reshuffling of figures in the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).

Tens of thousands of people in the capital Cairo gathered on Saturday, demanding an end to Hosni Mubarak's presidency.The demonstrations continued in defiance of an extended curfew, which state television reported will be in place from 4pm to 8am local time.

A military presence also remains, and the army warned the crowds in Tahrir Square in Cairo that if they defy the curfew, they would be in danger.

Al Jazeera's Ayman Mohyeldin, reporting from Cairo, said that soldiers deployed to central Cairo are not intervening in the protests.

"Some of the soldiers here have said that the only way for peace to come to the streets of Cairo is for Mubarak to step down," he said.

Similar crowds were gathering in the cities of Alexandria and Suez, Al Jazeera's correspondents reported.

Cabinet resigns

The Egyptian cabinet meanwhile have formally resigned in response to the protests, and Ahmed Ezz, a businessman and senior figure in the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) also resigned from his post as chairman of the Planning and Budget Committee.

Protesters ransacked and burned one of his company's main offices in Mohandiseen, an area of Cairo.

State media reported on Saturday that some protesters held up posters with a cross marked over the face of Ezz, who is chairman of Ezz Steel.

Armoured personnel carriers remain stationed around the British and US embassies, as well as at the state television station.

Meanwhile, some mobile phone networks resumed service in the capital on Saturday, after being shut down by authorities on Friday. Internet services remain cut, and landline usage limited.

Authorities had blocked internet, mobile phone and SMS services in order to disrupt planned demonstrations.

The Reuters news agency reported that police had fired live ammunition at protesters, but there is no independent confirmation of that report.

In Suez, Al Jazeera's Jamal ElShayyal reported that 1,000-2,000 protesters had gathered, and that the military was not confronting them.

ElShayyal quoted a military officer as saying that troops would "not fire a single bullet on Egyptians".
ElShayyal said that 1,700 public workers in Suez had gone on an indefinite strike seeking Mubarak's resignation.

The several hundred protesters in Tahrir Square demonstrated in full view of the army, which had been deployed in the city to quell the popular unrest sweeping the Middle East's most populous Muslim country since January 25.

They repeatedly shouted that their intentions were peaceful.

Mohamed ElBaradei, a leading opposition figure, told Al Jazeera that protests would continue until the president steps down.

He also stressed that the political "system" will have to change in Egypt before the country can move forward.

He termed president Mubarak's midnight speech on Friday as "disappointing", and called on him to resign.
The former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also expressed "disappointment" with the US reaction to the protests, though he did stress that any change would have to come from "inside Egypt".

He said that Mubarak should put in place an interim government that would arrange free and fair elections.

'War zone'

Al Jazeera's Jane Dutton, reporting from Cairo, said the normally bustling city looked more like a war zone early on Saturday morning.

Tanks have been patrolling the streets of the capital, and a statement from the Egyptian armed forces asked citizens to respect the curfew and to avoid congregating in large groups.

"There is broken glass everywhere ... a lot of the burnt out shells of the police cars have been removed but you are aware that there were hours and hours of skirmishes on the streets of the capital city [last night]," Dutton said.

The number of people killed in protests over the past five days is reported to be in the scores, with at least 23 deaths confirmed in Alexandria, and at least 27 confirmed in Suez, with a further 22 deaths in Cairo.
The officer also said the only solution to the current unrest was "for Mubarak to leave".

Egyptians Defiant as Military Does Little to Quash Protests

CAIRO — President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt struggled to maintain a tenuous hold on power on Saturday as the police withdrew from the major cities and the military did nothing to hold back tens of thousands of demonstrators defying a curfew to call for an end to his nearly 30 years of authoritarian rule.

As street protests flared for a fifth day, Mr. Mubarak fired his cabinet and appointed Omar Suleiman, his right-hand man and the country’s intelligence chief, as vice president. Mr. Mubarak, who was vice president himself when he took power after the assassination of President Anwar el-Sadat, had until now steadfastly refused pressure to name any successor, so the move stirred speculation that he was planning to resign.

That, in turn, raised the prospect of an unpredictable handover of power in a country that is a pivotal American ally — a fear that administration officials say factored into President Obama’s calculus not to push for Mr. Mubarak’s resignation, at least for now.

The appointments of two former generals — Mr. Suleiman and Ahmed Shafik, who was named prime minister — also signaled the central role the armed forces will play in shaping the outcome of the unrest. But even though the military is widely popular with the public, there was no sign that the government shakeup would placate protesters.

On Saturday, Mohamed ElBaradei, the Noble laureate and a leading critic of the government, told Al Jazeera that Mr. Mubarak should step down immediately so that a new “national unity government” could take over, though he offered no details about its makeup.

Control of the streets, meanwhile, cycled through a dizzying succession of stages. After an all-out war against hundreds of thousands of protesters who flooded the streets Friday night, the legions of black-clad security police officers — a reviled paramilitary force focused on upholding the state — withdrew from the biggest cities. Looters smashed store windows and ravaged shopping malls as police stations and the national party headquarters burned through the night.

Thousands of army troops then stepped in late Friday to reinforce the police. By Saturday morning, a sense of celebration took over the central squares of the capital as at least some members of the military encouraged the protesters instead of cracking down on them.

It was unclear whether the soldiers in the streets were operating without orders or in defiance of them. But their displays of support for the protesters were conspicuous throughout the capital. In the most striking example, four armored military vehicles moved at the front of a crowd of thousands of protesters in a pitched battle against the Egyptian security police defending the Interior Ministry.

But the soldiers refused protesters’ pleas to open fire on the security police. And the police battered the protesters with tear gas, shotguns and rubber bullets. There were pools of blood in the streets, and protesters carried at least a dozen wounded from the front line of the clashes.

Everywhere in Cairo, soldiers and protesters hugged or snapped pictures together on top of military tanks. With the soldiers’ consent, protesters scrawled graffiti denouncing Mr. Mubarak on many of the tanks. “This is the revolution of all the people,” read a common slogan. “No, no, Mubarak” was another.

Some speculated that the sudden withdrawal of the police from the cities — even some museums and embassies in Cairo were left unguarded — was intended to create chaos that could justify a crackdown. And widespread reports of looting did return on Saturday night.

“How come there is no security at all?” asked Mohamed Salmawy, president of the Egyptian Writers Union. “It is very fishy that the police had decided to leave the country completely to the thugs and angry mobs.”

The Mubarak government may have considered its security police more reliable than the military, where service is compulsory for all Egyptian men. While soldiers occupied central squares and guarded key institutions like the Egyptian Museum, a heavy deployment of security police officers remained guarding several closed-off blocks around Mr. Mubarak’s presidential palace.

While some Egyptians reveled in what appeared to be their new freedom, there were ominous signs of lawlessness in places where the police had abandoned their posts.

In the northern port city of Alexandria on Saturday, witnesses were unnerved by the young men on patrol with sticks, clubs and other weapons.

“We’re Egyptians. We’re real men,” said a shopkeeper, brandishing a machete. “We can protect ourselves.”

Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director of Human Rights Watch, said that he observed a group of soldiers completely surrounded by people asking for help in protecting their neighborhoods. The army told them that they would have to take care of their own neighborhoods and that there might be reinforcements Sunday.

“Egypt has been a police state for 30 years. For the police to suddenly disappear from the streets is a shocking experience,” Mr. Bouckaert said.

State television also announced the arrest of an unspecified number of members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the outlawed Islamist group long considered the largest and best organized political group in Egypt, for “acts of theft and terrorism.”

It was unclear, however, what role the Brotherhood played in the protests or might play if they succeeded in toppling Mr. Mubarak. Since then, there have been many signs of Brotherhood members marching and chanting in the crowds. But the throngs —mostly spontaneous — were so large that the Brotherhood’s members seemed far from dominant. Questions about the Brotherhood elicited shouting matches among protesters, with some embracing it and others against it.

If Mr. Mubarak’s decision to pick a vice president aroused hopes of his exit, his choice of Mr. Suleiman did nothing to appease the crowds in the streets. Long trusted with most sensitive matters like the Israeli-Palestinian talks, Mr. Suleiman is well connected in both Washington and Tel Aviv. But he is also Mr. Mubarak’s closest aide, considered almost an alter ego, and the protesters’ negative reaction was immediate.

“Oh Mubarak, oh Suleiman, we have heard that before,” they chanted. “Neither Mubarak nor Suleiman — both are stooges of the Americans.”

Many of the protesters were critical of the United States. Many complained about United States government support for Mr. Mubarak or expressed disappointment with President Obama. But either because of Mr. Obama’s Muslim family history or because of his much-publicized speech here at the start of his presidency, many of the protesters expressed their criticism by telling American journalists that they had something to tell the president.

“I want to send a message to President Obama,” said Mohamed el-Mesry, a middle-aged professional. “I call on President Obama, at least in his statements, to be in solidarity with the Egyptian people and freedom, truly like he says.”

Before the street fights late Saturday, government officials had acknowledged more than 70 deaths in the unrest, with 40 around Cairo. But the final death toll is likely to be much higher. One doctor in a crowd of protesters said his Cairo hospital alone had seen 23 people dead from bullet wounds, and he showed digital photographs of the victims.

In Sinai, officials said that the security police had withdrawn from broad portions of the territory, leaving armed Bedouin in control. At least five members of the police, both law enforcement and state security, were killed, officials said.

The unrest continued to reverberate throughout the region, where other autocratic leaders have long held on to power.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia blamed unnamed agitators for the demonstrations in Egypt. The Saudi Press Agency quoted him saying: “No Arab or Muslim can tolerate any meddling in the security and stability of Arab and Muslim Egypt by those who infiltrated the people in the name of freedom of expression, exploiting it to inject their destructive hatred.”

And in Yemen, dozens of protesters took to the streets of Sana in solidarity with Egyptian demonstrators, local media reported. There were large antigovernment demonstrations in Yemen last week, as government critics were inspired after street demonstrations toppled Tunisia’s government.

The government restored mobile phone connections, turned off Friday morning in an apparent effort to thwart protesters’ coordination. But Internet access remained shut off Saturday.

The army moved to secure Cairo International Airport on Saturday as The Associated Press reported that as many as 2,000 people had flocked there in a frantic attempt to leave the country.

As night fell bursts of gunfire could be heard throughout the city and the suburbs. And the groups of armed young men stopped cars at checkpoints every few blocks throughout the city. Several were visible coordinating with military officers, even setting up joint military-civilian checkpoints.

One group on the Nile island of Zamalek was ripping up sheets to make armbands that they said soldiers had instructed them to wear. A group at the base of a central bridge kept a case of beer nearby to cheer themselves. And many swelled visibly with pride at their role defending their communities and, many said, their country.

“Who controls the street controls the country,” said Dr. Khaled Abdelfattah, 38, patrolling downtown. “We are in charge now.”

Egyptian protesters demand that White House condemn Mubarak

In a dusty alleyway in downtown Cairo, Gamal Mohammed Manshawi held out a dirty plastic bag Saturday afternoon. Inside were smashed gas canisters and the casings of rubber bullets that he said Egyptian police had fired at anti-government demonstrators."You see," the 50-year-old lawyer said, displaying the items. On the bottom of each were the words "Made in the USA."

"They are attacking us with American weapons," he yelled as men gathered around him.

To many protesters in the streets of Cairo, the Obama administration has offered only tepid criticism of a regime that receives billions of dollars in U.S. aid.

The United States appears to be walking a fine line between a now-weakened leader and the pro-democracy protesters who could overthrow him. The prospect of President Hosni Mubarak being ousted by a movement that feels ignored by the United States raises questions about future relations between Washington and a strategic ally in a volatile region.

Many in the movement are now denouncing the United States for supporting Mubarak, saying the price has been their freedom.

"Tell America that we get to choose our president," Manshawi said. "We choose him, not them."

Many protesters said they were stirred by the death of Khaled Said, an activist who was beaten to death by security forces last year. He became a symbol of abuse at the hands of the security forces under Mubarak.

"We want a government elected by the people, not a government dictated to the people," said Mohammed Ramadan, 40, an accountant who was demonstrating along the Nile on Saturday, as he has for the past five days.The police retreated Saturday, pushed back by waves of demonstrators. The Egyptian army was deployed to the streets, a victory in the eyes of the people here, and the calls for Mubarak's ouster grew stronger.

U.S. officials "speak about their own interest, not ours," said Ahmed Abu Dunia, who said he planned to demonstrate every day until Mubarak is gone. "The Egyptians love Egypt."

When protesters first took to the streets Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that "our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable." On Saturday, several protesters noted that she did not address the government's human rights record or the attacks by police to break up the gatherings.The administration's remarks have grown more forceful. On Friday, President Obama said he had asked Mubarak to live up to promises to reform.But protesters who were demanding their rights said that was not enough.

"We didn't expect much from the United States," said Abdel Nasser Awad, 40, who said he was demonstrating for his son's future. "We are not people looking for war. We are looking for freedom."

He added that he hoped the international community, including the United States, would force Mubarak out soon so that chaos would not engulf the nation. On Saturday, looters flooded several neighborhoods across the city.

In Tahrir Square, where the largest protests in Cairo have taken place, people said they thought Mubarak's resignation might be near, not because of the United States but in spite of it. Many here said that if Obama turned his back on Mubarak, he would have to step down.

"We believe America is against us," said Emad Abdel Halim, 31. "Until now, Obama didn't talk to the Egyptian people. He didn't support the Egyptian people."

"Tell Obama to forget about Mubarak," said Islam Rashid, 26. "He is done."

The Arab revolution

The collapse of Tunisia's government and the escalating protests in Egypt to end the 30-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak has gone, to begin with, to rattle Jordan and Yemen heralding an unprecedented Arab revolution, something unheard of in the recent history. The popular mood suggests this may be the beginning of the end of despotic rule in several North African states and Middle East countries where unpopular monarchs and dictators cling on to power with the active connivance of the so-called civilized world and neo-colonial super power for decades. Many so-called analysts and political commentators have attempted to attribute this change to Islamist parties but the fact remains that right wing parties have supported and colluded with these regimes in fulfillment of the imperialism agenda till the bi-polar world gave in to a unipolar system that closed on global rightwing parties all avenues of riches to give them a cause to lament and grumble. In a broader term, the genesis of Tunisia's protest - corruption, hardship and abuse of power - is shared across the region, most notably perhaps in Egypt, the most populous of the Arab world. Algeria has also started feeling the heat of the popular Arab movement with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika seemingly shaken after five days of violent protests earlier this month. The indigenous uprisings raging from Tunisia to Egypt to Yemen are heralding a new Arab world, unthinkable of. Today's Arab revolution is no less significant than those that preceded it in recent decades in Eastern Europe and Latin America. This time, Arabs are not being led by their leaders -- from colonialism to pan-Arabism, American or any other "ism". Instead, they have turned on those leaders who have failed to provide them their dignity, justice and a better life. No doubt we are witnessing today an Arab people's revolution. Like those before them, today's Arab revolution will transform the region's politics. What is happening today is nothing short of what experts have long been describing as the birth of a new Arab politics that will never be the same again. Propelled by the young and the digital revolution, citizens will demand nothing less than the right to choose and change their representatives in the future. To glimpse the nature of what can emerge, we should understand the rapidly changing social structure of Arab societies which are more educated, urban and connected than ever before. Due to the phenomenal growth of secondary and university-level education, literacy rates among the region's youths have skyrocketed in the past 40 years. The percentage of people living in Arab cities has risen by 50 per cent in the same period and modern technology and digital connections have reached the new heights. No wonder, then, that the people have finally snapped at the lack of opportunity and representation and the high levels of corruption and control that characterize their lives. Most tellingly, more has united the protesting people than divided them. And this happening despite they have no leadership to inspire them. The slogans convulsing the entire region yell aloud that the people want dignity, justice and a better life as a universal value, not the domain of any one particular party or its regime. Instead, the national movements, which these conditions have spawned, will continue to demand a political system that is more pluralistic, democratic and produces effective and competent governments sensitive to the legitimate aspirations of all the society's people. This is also a clarion call for Washington and its European allies, who have backed and abetted the remorseless regimes in violating and usurping fundamental human rights of their people, to lay their hands off the Arab world. They want to themselves determine their future under a system that guarantees them democratic and constitutional process independent of imperialist wrangling. The lesson left by the United States by unconditionally supporting Israel at the cost of Palestinian and Arab aspirations, has also sufficiently boosted the movement of a change from Cairo to Sana'a. And no wonder if the kingdoms of Saudi Arabia, the UAE etc. may also see the rising of tides in no distant a future. With the pressure mounting, what world policymakers can contribute is to make sure that transition in each country of the boiling region remains peaceful. Western policymakers in particular must strike a careful balance between ensuring peace in the region and unqualified support, rather collusion with Israel, and start respecting the wishes of the aspirations pf the people of the region.

Change in Egypt

“As long as there is in my chest a heart that beats and I draw breath”, that is how long Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak vowed to continue ruling the land of the Nile in a 2006 declaration to the Egyptian Parliament. However, the massive uprising that is the largest in the three decades of his rule, inspired by and following in the footsteps of the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, looks set to prove the 81-year-old president wrong. Since January 25, youth from all walks of life in Egypt have been rallying against a system that has for too long given them nothing but unemployment, crippling price hikes, corrupt governance and police brutality to make it clear to Mubarak — and the world — that they are no longer prepared to put up with a dictatorship that has been seeking to inculcate a political dynasty through anointing Mubarak’s son as his successor (the son has fled in the face of the protests to London, complete with bag, baggage and family). Hosni Mubarak has been President since 1981, taking over after President Anwar El Sadat was assassinated. He had continually been re-elected to office in 1987, 1993 and 1999 in largely controversial elections as no one could really run as a candidate against the president. In 2005, a highly biased referendum was held in which Mubarak was once again re-elected. Although still clinging to power, rumours started buzzing that the ailing president was grooming his son, Gamal Mubarak to take over. For the people of Egypt — where 40 percent of the population lives on less than two dollars a day — to have a son of leisure and privilege represent them without their approval was perhaps finally too much to swallow. Emboldened by the successful ouster of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Egypt’s protesters, it seems, will not rest until they have rid themselves of a despot president.

So far, some 75 people have been killed and some 1,000 arrested in protests all over Egypt. On Wednesday, when the government saw the situation getting radically out of control, curfew was imposed and gatherings of more than five people were officially banned. The army was ordered in and the police rampaged with tear gas and water cannon. What started off as a peaceful demonstration of youth dissent quickly turned into an all out revolt by Friday. The government has sealed off most internet and media access inside the country. The headquarters of the National Democratic Party in Cairo were set on fire by the protesters on Friday after which President Mubarak, in a late night televised address, dissolved his government in an attempt to pacify the crowds. He has still not hinted at stepping down and the people seem inclined to settle for nothing less.

As can be seen in much of the Arab world, the US has always sided with rulers who serve its agenda best. Pumped up with some $ 2 billion in military and economic aid annually, Mubarak was the US’s trump card to keep the ‘Islamists’ away from power — the Muslim Brotherhood is perceived by the West as Egypt’s biggest Islamist threat — and keep Egypt within the fold of Arab states who have made peace with Israel. Throughout the Arab world, the US has aligned itself with despots who refuse to vacate power, making a mockery of the ‘democracy’ it otherwise advocates so fiercely. Even now, President Obama is urging “democratic reforms” in Egypt but not the ouster of an unpopular president, while at the same time withholding $ 1.5 billion in military aid, perhaps as a signal to the Egyptian generals to intervene if they want the money.

Considering the momentum of events and the unrelenting protests on the streets, it looks like President Mubarak’s days are numbered. With the Muslim Brotherhood remaining silent so far, it is yet to be seen what character this impending change will take. Any regime changes in Tunisia and possibly in Egypt will set the tone for whatever comes next in the Arab world. The entire world watches and waits

In defence of Veena Malik

Pakistani film star and TV comedienne Veena Malik is in ‘trubbel’. The first sin she committed against Pakistan’s India-centric nationalism was accepting to take part in a TV programme in Mumbai. The second sin she committed was against the violent religiosity of Pakistani society: she allowed some intimate shots with a Hindu actor. This was a double whammy of national betrayal.
A TV anchor, treading the frontiers of propriety for ratings, waited till she returned to Lahore to put her together with a mullah who upbraided her for fahashi. What was implied was something deeper than just an extended make-believe serial in which characters engaged in free-wheeling relationships.
What Pakistan lost was its honour. A male Pakistani actor going through the same shenanigans with a Hindu actress would have caused us to strut with pride. Veena became Pakistan in the female mode deflowered by male Bharat. The hidden accusation was that of cross-border coitus in which Pakistan was in the female mode. The TV anchor sat back and enjoyed seeing an implied fornication punished.
There was collective eroticism in this. Another TV programme with an audience also delivered its verdict. A group of young boys and girls said, ‘she is not from us’. National honour was lost through Veena Malik. (It was not lost in a cross-border ‘real’ liaison by a famous Pakistani cricketer.) It was an act of excommunication organised by a bearded TV host. In Pakistan, excommunication is not enough. Some jihadi will complete the act of purging by despatching the victim as a burnt offering to Pakistan’s revengeful gods.
The press reporting on Veena is replete with lascivious innuendo. A woman of ill repute seduced our innocent fast bowler Muhammad Asif and sneaked against him for drugs and match-fixing to the ICC. They ignored her honesty in admitting that she loved him and overlooked his rascalities and kept spending big money in the hope of reforming him. There was more integrity in this ‘sinful woman’ than in all our priests and TV hosts put together.
She was abandoned by her profession too. The film world turned pious and swore allegiance to cinematic nationalism by condemning her. This has happened so many times it is sickening. And the media has descended to its lowest point, more a pander to voyeurism than a protector of public virtue.
In Filming the Line of Control: the Indo-Pak Relationship through the Cinematic Lens; edited by Meenakshi Bharat & Nirmal Kumar; (Routledge 2008), the thesis is: there is a sexual insult involved in getting Pakistani girls to fall in love with Hindu men. Indian films want the audiences to feel as if their nation state was a highly-sexed male taking to bed the female enemy nation state to re-enact the times when the Mongols raped the nations they conquered.
Pakistan has done a lot of TV dramas doing just that till our mujahideen turned on us and started killing our men and women instead of morally correcting rather easy Hindu women in Kashmir. What would make our TV hosts feel good would be the sight of a Pakistani-Muslim male sexually annexing an Indian-Hindu woman: a symbolic taking of Kashmir.
The pious are usually obsessed with what they think is forbidden. We have our problems with entertainment in general. That is why our constitution stays clear of the word ‘culture’ which is dangerously coextensive with that of India. Veena was brave because she crossed the line. She has more human worth than the TV hosts trying to increase their ratings at her cost.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 30th, 2011.

Egyptian Americans Call on US to Support Protesters

A Coalition of Egyptian American Organizations expressed their concerns this week over the reaction of the Egypitan government to anti-government demonstrations and urged the U.S. government to support the Egyptian people's efforts to achieve freedom and social justice. Hundreds of Egyptian Americans demonstrated in front of the White House to relay this message.
Egyptian American activists sent a delegation to the State Department to relay their concern over the way Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak tried to suppress Egyptian demonstrations. Mokhtar Kamel is the spokesperson for the Alliance of Egyptian Americans, a non-profit organization which says it exists to empower the Egyptian people.
"Obviously what was discussed is the dire situation in Egypt,” said Kamel. “Our point of view was that the U.S. should stand by the people not by the tyrants because the people are there and they are going to be there permanently but tyarants are temporary. We talked about the demands of the Egyptian people and we said that now it is too late, the demand is for Mr. Mubarak to go”
Professor Saad Eldin Ibrahim, is a prominent Egyptian American professor of sociology and a democracy activist who was imprisoned by the Egyptian regime for his call for political reform. He told U.S. officials at the State Department and the National Security Council the time has come for the U.S. to take the side of the people.
"Mubarak hasn’t done anything for peace, Mubarak hasn’t done anything for democracy and this trade off of peace and democracy which the Obama administration entertained for two and half years and they got neither democracy nor peace. So we say for the Americans [to] stand by the Egyptian people for a change and the Egyptian people have spoken loud and clear; we want freedom, we want human and economic rights and we say to Mr. Mubarak it is time to go," said Ibrabim.The White House and the State Department have been watching the situation in Egypt for several days. Both President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called repeatedly on the Egyptian president to respond to his people with reforms not with force. But instead of allowing freedom of speech or assembly, and respond to demands for constitutional reform, free elections, he deployed the army to Egyptian major cities. The U.S response was swift with Secretary Clinton's demand.
"The Egyptian Government needs to engage immediately with the Egyptian people in implementing needed economic, political and social reforms," she said.
"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."
The U.S. counts Egypt as an ally in the Middle East and has so far been cautious about taking sides. However, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Washington would review its aid to Egypt based on events in the coming days.
Egypt is the fourth largest recipient of American aid, after Israel, Afghanistan,and Pakistan.
Egyptian Americans gathered in front of the White House chanting slogans calling for Mubarak to leave and asking President Obama to take the right side by backing the aspirations of the Egyptian people.

Looting spreads in Egyptian cities

Al Jazeera and agencies

Residents in the Egyptian capital of Cairo have set up neighbourhood groups armed with guns, clubs and knives as looting spread across the capital, despite the deployment of army troops to restore order.

Witnesses reported gangs of youths, some on motorbikes, roaming the streets, looting supermarkets, shopping malls and shops on Saturday.

Some of the gangs also entered wealthy residential areas of the capital, and gunfire could be heard in the city centre as well as outlying districts.

Residents also said that banks were broken into and hundreds of young men carted away televisions, fans and stereo equipment looted from the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) near the Egyptian Museum, before setting the building alight.

The looting has prompted residents in some neighbourhoods, including the upscale Zamalek district in central Cairo, to set up vigilante groups to protect private property. Outside some apartment blocks, guards armed with machine guns had taken up posts.

In the Maadi area south of Cairo, neighbourhood mosques called on young men over loudspeakers to come down to the entrances of building and homes to ward off looters.

Naglaa Mahmoud, a Maadi resident, told the Associated Press that thugs were breaking cars and threatening to get into homes. She said even the ambulance service in the neighbourhood had abandoned their offices and accused the regime of planning the chaos by pulling out all of its police forces.

"All this seems to be prearranged. They are punishing us for asking for this change," she said.

"What a shame he [Mubarak] doesn't care for the people or anything. This is a corrupt regime."

The military also urged local residents throughout the country to defend themselves from looters.

However, in the port city of Alexandria, residents called on the army to protect them, as well as organising their own committees in defence. Looting has also occurred in wealthy areas of Cairo,

Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros reporting from Suez, said that looting is widespread and that people have been walking into buildings and stealing objects.

"Residents here are pleading with the military to stop watching this happen, and act to enforce some security," she said.

Soldiers enter museum

Meanwhile, soldiers have entered the Egyptian Museum in Cairo to secure it from looters, as anti-government protests continued in the capital in defiance of a curfew.

Early on Saturday morning, soldiers secured the museum and its grounds, located near some of the most intense of the mass anti-government protests in the capital.

The museum is home to priceless ancient artifacts, some dating back 5,000 years. Many artefacts lay damaged on the floor, but officials said nothing had been stolen.

Before the army arrived, young Egyptians - some armed with truncheons grabbed off the police - created a human chain at the museum's front gate to prevent looters from making off with any of the artefacts.

Zahi Hawass, the Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said the would-be looters only managed to vandalise two mummies, ripping their heads off. They also cleared out the museum gift shop.

He said the museum's prized King Tutankhamun exhibit, which includes the boy pharaoh's gold death mask, had not been damaged and was safe.

However, the museum's contents could still be damaged by the potential collapse of a neighbouring building gutted by fire, Hawass said.

Mubarak makes moves as protests convulse Egypt
President Hosni Mubarak's efforts to redeem his 30-year-rule did little to quell Egyptian discontent Saturday as tens of thousands of demonstrators again defied a curfew to demand change and a new fear of anarchy percolated.
The world's attention fell on central Cairo where the Army was deployed to replace police forces that clashed brutally with demonstrators. But with many Cairo neighborhoods left without any security, Egyptians began to feel the sting of politics cutting into personal safety.
Shops and businesses were looted and abandoned police stations stripped clean of their arsenals.
In one area, residents set up barricades and handed out sticks and kitchen knives as defense measures. Another group of men armed themselves and planned to sit outside all night to guard their houses.
"There have been no police officers on the streets since this morning," Cairo resident Sherief Abdelbaki said. "All the men are trying to protect the ladies, their wives and children."We have all become vigilantes ... it's like the Wild West," he said. "Where is the security?"
After days of silence, the embattled Mubarak acted swiftly Saturday. He fired his entire cabinet, then tapped two new leaders to stand by his side.
Mubarak appointed his trusted and powerful intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, as his deputy, the first time the authoritarian regime has seen such a post. He also asked Ahmed Shafik, the civil aviation minister in the cabinet that just stepped down, to form a new government, state-run Nile TV reported. Shafik is a former Air Force officer with strong military connections.
But Egyptians fed up with with what they see as Mubarak's hollow promises for reform were hardly appeased. In a fifth day of protests engulfing the Arab world's most populous nation, people took to the streets, chanting "Down with Mubarak" and burning pictures of the authoritarian leader.
"There is very little in terms of real power that the president still has," CNN's Ben Wedeman said from Cairo. "The army is controlling the street, but politically there is a complete vacuum."
Opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei, who returned home to Cairo to join the demonstrations and was placed under house arrest on Friday, said Saturday that he was disappointed in Mubarak's decision to stay put.
"This is a change of personnel and we are talking about the change of a regime," ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, told Al Jazeera television of Mubarak's government reshuffle. "The Egyptian people are saying one thing: President Hosni Mubarak must leave. We have to move towards a democratic state."
The demonstrations Saturday in Cairo and other cities were boisterous but largely peaceful. One exception was near the cordoned-off Interior Ministry, where security forces clashed violently with demonstrators Saturday afternoon.At least one person was killed, Dr. Ragab Ali said at the Ebad Al-Rahman Clinic, a medical center near the Interior Ministry, though another doctor treating the wounded said at least five people had been shot to death.
The clashes injured at least 60 people, Ali said.
There was confusion about the human toll in the demonstrations thus far.
At least 31 people were killed in Alexandria, Egypt, hospital authorities told CNN. Earlier, the state-run Nile TV earlier reported 38 people died. It was unclear whether the Alexandria deaths were part of that toll.
Chaos reigned at Alexandria's short-staffed hospitals, where injured protesters hurled anger at doctors for not treating them quickly enough.
At the Interior Ministry in Cairo, police surged forward, shooting live ammunition and burning tear gas as protesters rumbled towards the building, an Alamo of sorts for the police and an outpost that stood as a highly visible and potent symbol of state authority.
Nearby, tension simmered in Tahrir Square, now littered with rocks, glass, garbage and other debris after five days of tumult. People picked up spent shotgun cartridges and tear gas canisters that said "Made in the U.S.A." They called Mubarak a puppet of America.
The powerful Egyptian army, deployed to the streets for the first time since the mid-1980s, is much more respected than the police, and many protesters embraced their presence. But whether the 450,000-strong armed forces will remain loyal to Mubarak is key for the nation's future.
The military issued a stern warning to the people on Saturday: "Stop the looting, chaos and the things that hurt Egypt. Protect the nation, protect Egypt, protect yourselves," the military said, according to Nile TV.
Suleiman's appointment as vice president was seen widely as an another attempt to restore order. "His loyalty to Mubarak seems rock solid," a former U.S. ambassador said in a classified U.S. diplomatic cable leaked to the website WikiLeaks.
Marco Vicenzino, director of the Washington-based research organization Global Strategy Project, said Mubarak's focus now is on preserving order. "And the person who can do that, obviously, is Omar Suleiman," Vicenzino said.
Suleiman has also long been seen as a possible successor to Mubarak, and tapping him as a deputy at this critical juncture might allow Mubarak to make a graceful exit, Vicenzino said.
Meanwhile, Egyptian Army Chief of Staff Sami Annan huddled with five deputies after returning home early from high-level talks at the Pentagon to address the crisis at hand, a senior Egyptian military official told CNN.
U.S. President Barack Obama convened an hourlong meeting on the Egypt crisis on Saturday that included Vice President Joe Biden, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon and other top officials, the White House said.
Mubarak imposed another nighttime curfew from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. Sunday in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez, the cities where the largest protests have unfolded. A previous curfew had been in place nationwide Friday night into Saturday morning but it, too, failed to keep people off the streets.
The consequences of the unrest started surfacing Saturday as Egypt's Central Bank announced the closure of all banks as well as the stock market on Sunday, state-run television reported. And mid-year university examinations were postponed.
That followed a brutal crackdown throughout Friday when thousands of riot and plainclothes police clashed violently with the protesters, firing water cannons, rubber bullets and tear gas with force and impunity.
Undeterred, people ran, screamed, hurled rocks and accosted walls of security as they tried to make their way to central Cairo.
In coastal Alexandria on Saturday, at least 2,000 protesters gathered in Raml Square. There was no sign of police, and protests appeared peaceful. But in that city, too, anxiety over looting and a lack of security ran high and by nightfall, sounds of gunfire pierced the air.
Earlier in the day, people smiled and shook hands with troops patrolling the area. One soldier cradled a baby and posed for a picture.
Cellular service appeared to have been restored in Egypt Saturday morning. Text messaging is one of the most common modes of communication for Egyptians and was cut off amid calls for intensified dissent.
Mubarak, 82, who has not been seen in public for some time, addressed the nation in a televised speech early Saturday. He said he asked his government to step down but he intended to stay in power.
"I asked the government to resign today and I will commission a new government to take over tomorrow," Mubarak said shortly after midnight.
The aging president has ruled Egypt with an iron fist for three decades and it was widely believed he was grooming his son, Gamal, as his successor, a plan now complicated by demands for democracy.
Mubarak said "these protests arose to express a legitimate demand for more democracy, need for a greater social safety net, and the improvement of living standards, fighting poverty and rampant corruption.
"I understand these legitimate demands of the people and I truly understand the depth of their worries and burdens, and I will not part from them ever and I will work for them everyday," he said. "But regardless of what problems we face, this does not justify violence or lawlessness."
As Mubarak spoke overnight, protesters burned police stations in Cairo and Alexandria, and overturned and torched police vehicles. People gathered, expecting an announcement of Mubarak's resignation. When that did not happen, a celebratory mood quickly turned back into anger.
Earlier, protesters ransacked the headquarters of the ruling National Democratic Party and set it afire. Saturday afternoon, thousands of chanting demonstrators filed past the smoldering building.
As they approached the state-run television building, soldiers linked arms, forming a human chain to hold back the protesters. The crowd stopped respectfully in front of the troops, and continued chanting "Down, down, Hosni Mubarak" and "the people want to bring down the regime."
The Egyptian crisis reverberated across the world, with stocks plunging on news of unrest and airlines cancelling flights.
The unprecedented protests in Egypt come weeks after similar disturbances sparked a revolution in Tunisia, forcing then-president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee the country. Similar Tunisia-inspired demonstrations have taken place in Algeria, Yemen and Jordan.

Mubarak's wife leaves for London

According to the Al Jazeera news channel, there are reports that the Egyptian President's wife Suzanne Mubarak has left for London. It is unclear who is the source for this report. Al Jazeera reported earlier that Mubarak's two sons, Gamal and Ala, have arrived in London with their families, escaping Egypt as result of the unrest.

Cairo falls into near-anarchy

Tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators swarmed central Cairo on Saturday in the largest demonstration yet against the rule of the country's longtime autocratic leader, President Hosni Mubarak. The crowd went unchallenged by troops, who, in extraordinary scenes unfolding around the capital's central Tahrir Square, smiled and shook hands with protesters and invited them up onto their tanks.Meanwhile, Mubarak named a vice president for the first time since coming to power 30 years ago, a government spokesman said - an apparent step toward setting up a successor other than his son, Gamal, whom he had appeared to be grooming for the post, despite public opposition. Mubarak chose as his deputy his intelligence chief and close confidant Omar Suleiman.

As a 4 p.m. curfew came and went Saturday, the square - which police had kept off-limits on Friday - was filled with people as far as the eye could see. The police seemed to have disappeared from the streets following vicious clashes the day before. The army had been hailed on the streets as a potential savior, with protesters giving soldiers thumbs up and openly imploring them to join their movement.

On Friday, the troops had appeared steadfastly neutral. Late Saturday, however, they were doing nothing to move demonstrators out of the streets, despite an earlier announcement by security services that anyone remaining in central squares or major roadways after 4 p.m. would face arrest.

Asked if they would enforce the curfew, soldiers said they would not.

"We are with the people," said Ahmed, a 20-year-old conscript.

Soldiers accepted fruit, water and soda handed out by protesters in Tahrir Square and smiled as protesters chanted, "Go, Mubarak, go!" Children were hoisted up on tanks in the middle of the square to have their photos taken with troops as the hulking remains of the National Democratic Party headquarters building, home to Mubarak's ruling organization, burned in the background.

"These soldiers are Egyptians, too. They are suffering just like we are," said Khalid Ezz el-Din, a 50-year-old businessman who had come to the square to demand Mubarak step down.

Shortly afterward, a convoy of tanks rolled into the square, with as many as 20 protesters riding on each one. As the soldiers smiled and flashed peace signs, the protesters shouted "We are one!" and "Down with Mubarak!" Others held aloft a banner reading, "Game over, Mr. Mubarak.""This is freedom," said Abdel Nasser Awad. "Now we know Mubarak will leave. The only question is when."

Ahmed Mahmoud, a 50 year-old purchasing manager, said that for the first time he felt proud to be an Egyptian.

"I always wanted to run away from my country," he said. "This moment is the first time I feel like a human being."

Protests erupt in Yemen

Dozens of activists calling for the ouster of Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen's president, have clashed with government supporters in Sanaa, the country's capital.

Plainclothes police also attacked the demonstrators, who marched to the Egyptian embassy in Sanaa on Saturday chanting "Ali, leave leave" and "Tunisia left, Egypt after it and Yemen in the coming future".

The chants were referring to the ouster of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia early this month and to continuing demonstrations against Hosni Mubarak, the president of Egypt.

No casualties have been reported in the Yemen clashes.

Tawakel Karman, a female activist who has led several protests in Sanaa during the past week, said that a member of the security forces in civilian clothes tried to attack her with a dagger and a shoe but was stopped by other protesters.

"We will continue until the fall of Ali Abdullah Saleh's regime," said Karman, who was granted parole on Monday after being held over her role in earlier protests calling for political change in Yemen.

"We have the Southern Movement in the south, the (Shia) Huthi rebels in the north, and parliamentary opposition," all of which are calling for political change, Karman said.

Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the Arab world, faces a growing al-Qaeda threat, a separatist movement in the south and a sporadic rebellion by Zaidi Shia rebels in the north.

'Day of rage'

"But what's most important now is the jasmine revolution," Karman said, who is also a senior member of the opposition Islamist Al-Islah (Reform) party and heads a rights group, Women Journalists Without Chains.

Karman also called for Thursday, February 3 to be a "Day of rage" throughout Yemen.

Protests have been taking place on a nearly daily basis in Sanaa since mid-January calling for an end to Saleh's rule which began in 1978. Saleh was re-elected in September 2006 for a seven-year mandate.

A draft amendment of the constitution, under discussion in parliament despite opposition protests, could allow him - if passed - to remain in office for life.

Saleh had urged the opposition which rejected the amendment, to take part in April 27 parliamentary elections to avoid "political suicide."

The mandate of the current parliament was extended by two years to April under a February 2009 agreement between the ruling General People's Congress and opposition parties to allow dialogue on political reform.

The reforms on the table included a shift from a presidential regime to a proportional representation parliamentary system and further decentralisation of government - measures that have not been implemented.

Egypt's Ministry of the Interior building where gunshots erupted Saturday.


Egypt Protests Continue as Military Stands By

CAIRO — Egypt was engulfed in a fifth day of protests on Saturday, but an attempt by President Hosni Mubarak to salvage his 30-year rule by firing his cabinet and calling out the army appeared to backfire as troops and demonstrators fraternized and called for the president himself to resign.

While some protesters clashed with police, army tanks expected to disperse the crowds in central Cairo and in the northern city of Alexandria instead became rest points and even, on occasion, part of the protests as anti-Mubarak graffiti were scrawled on them without interference from soldiers.

“Leave Hosni, you, your son and your corrupted party!” declared the graffiti on one tank as soldiers invited demonstrators to climb aboard and have their photographs taken with them.

“This is the revolution of all the people,” declared the side of a second tank in downtown Cairo. Egyptian men all serve in the army, giving it a very different relationship to the people from that of the police.

The feared security police had largely withdrawn from central Cairo to take up positions around the presidential palace, with their places taken up by the army.

Following Mr. Mubarak’s demand in his speech just after midnight, the Egyptian cabinet officially resigned on Saturday. But there was no sign of letup in the tumult, with thousands of protesters defying a new curfew and remaining in the streets late Saturday afternoon. In TV footage broadcast by Al Jazeera, protesters appeared jubilant, chanting slogans, pumping their fists and waving Egytian flags.

Reports from morgues and hospitals suggested that at least 50 people had been killed so far.

In Ramses Square in central Cairo at midday, protesters commandeered a flatbed army truck. One protester was driving the truck around the square while a dozen others on the back were chanting for President Mubarak to leave office. Nearby, soldiers relaxed around their tanks and armored vehicles and chatted with protesters. There were no policemen in sight.

In another central Cairo square on Saturday a soldier in camouflage addressed a crowd through a bullhorn declaring that the army would stand with the people.

“I don’t care what happens,” the soldier said. “You are the ones who are going to make the change.” The crowd responded, “The army and the people will purify the country.”

Workers at the Alexandria morgue said they had counted more than 20 bodies from the last 24 hours of violence. Meanwhile, protests had started up again in the city. But there too, the demonstrators and the soldiers showed sympathy for one another. Demonstrators brought tea to the troops and had their pictures taken with them. Protesters walked by armored carriers unmolested.

People gathered outside the morgue looking for their relatives. In the main hospital, there were a number of people lying wounded from live fire.

Nationwide cellphone service, cut off by the government on Friday, was partially restored although the Associated Press said that the Internet appeared to be blocked. .

The army moved to secure the Cairo International Airport on Saturday as the Associated Press reported that as many as 2,000 people flocked there in a frantic attempt to leave the country. International carriers reported delays and cancellations.

Television images showed slow-moving traffic returning to Cairo’s bridges, where pitched battles occurred the day before. Young men directed cars in places — filling a void left by the departure of nearly all police from the streets — as the sound of honking replaced the pop of rubber bullets and tear gas.

But the city remained on edge as tens of thousands of protesters gathered in central Cairo and army vehicles rolled through the streets. It remained unclear what new orders the army might receive as the government declared a new curfew for 4 p.m. on Saturday, or how its soldiers and officers might respond.

And with police off most streets, there were scattered reports of lawlessness from various parts of the city, with groups of young men smashing windows, stealing cars and looting.

On Friday, with much of the nation in open revolt, Mr. Mubarak had deployed the nation’s military, instituted an overnight curfew and imposed a near-total blackout on communications to save his authoritarian government.

But protesters defied the nationwide curfew as Mr. Mubarak, 82, breaking days of silence, appeared on national television, promising to replace the ministers in his government, but calling popular protests “part of bigger plot to shake the stability” of Egypt. He refused calls, shouted by huge, angry crowds on Friday in the central squares of Cairo, the northern port of Alexandria and the canal city of Suez, for him to resign.

“I will not shy away from taking any decision that maintains the security of every Egyptian,” he vowed.

Whether his infamously efficient security apparatus and well-financed but politicized military could enforce that order — and whether it would stay loyal to him even if it came to shedding blood — was the main question for many Egyptians.

It was also a pressing concern for the White House, where President Obama called Mr. Mubarak and then, in his own Friday television appearance, urged him to take “concrete steps” toward the political and economic reform that the stalwart American ally had repeatedly failed to deliver.

Whatever the fallout from the protests — be it change that comes suddenly or unfolds over years — the upheaval at the heart of the Arab world has vast repercussions for the status quo in the region, including tolerance for secular dictators by a new generation of frustrated youth, the viability of opposition that had been kept mute or locked up for years and the orientation of regional governments toward the United States and Israel, which had long counted Egypt as its most important friend in the region.

Many regional experts were still predicting that the wily Mr. Mubarak, who has outmaneuvered domestic political rivals and Egypt’s Islamic movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, for decades, would find a way to suppress dissent and restore control. But the apparently spontaneous, nonideological and youthful protesters also posed a new kind of challenge to a state security system focused on more traditional threats from organized religious groups and terrorists.

Friday’s protests were the largest and most diverse yet, including young and old, women with Louis Vuitton bags and men in galabeyas, factory workers and film stars. All came surging out of mosques after midday prayers headed for Tahrir Square, and their clashes with the police left clouds of tear gas wafting through empty streets.

For the first time since the 1980s, Mr. Mubarak felt compelled to call the military into the streets of the major cities to restore order and enforce a national 6 p.m. curfew. He also ordered that Egypt be essentially severed from the global Internet and telecommunications systems. Even so, videos from Cairo and other major cities showed protesters openly defying the curfew and few efforts being made to enforce it.

Street battles unfolded throughout the day Friday, as hundreds of thousands of people streamed out of mosques after noon prayers on Friday in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and other cities around the country.

By nightfall, the protesters had burned down the ruling party’s headquarters in Cairo, and looters marched away with computers, briefcases and other equipment emblazoned with the party’s logo. Other groups assaulted the Interior Ministry and the state television headquarters, until after dark when the military occupied both buildings and regained control. At one point, the American Embassy came under attack.

Six Cairo police stations and several police cars were in flames, and stations in Suez and other cities were burning as well. Office equipment and police vehicles burned, and the police seemed to have retreated from Cairo’s main streets. Brigades of riot police officers deployed at mosques, bridges and intersections, and they battered the protesters with tear gas, water, rubber-coated bullets and, by day’s end, live ammunition.

With the help of five armored trucks and at least two fire trucks, more than a thousand riot police officers fought most of the day to hold the central Kasr al-Nil bridge. But, after hours of advances and retreats, by nightfall a crowd of at least twice as many protesters broke through. The Interior Ministry said nearly 900 were injured there and in the neighboring Giza area, with more than 400 hospitalized with critical injuries. State television said 13 were killed in Suez and 75 injured; a total of at least six were dead in Cairo and Giza.

The uprising here was also the biggest outbreak yet in a wave of youth-led revolts around the region since the Jan. 14 ouster of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia — a country with just half Cairo’s population of 20 million. “Tunis, Tunis, Tunis,” protesters chanted outside the Tunisian Embassy here.

“Egyptians right now are not afraid at all,” said Walid Rachid, a student taking refuge from tear gas inside a Giza mosque. “It may take time, but our goal will come, an end to this regime. I want to say to this regime: 30 years is more than enough. Our country is going down and down because of your policies.”

Mr. Mubarak, in his televised address, said he was working to open up democracy and to fight “corruption,” and he said he understood the hardships facing the Egyptian people. But, he said, “a very thin line separates freedom from chaos.”

His offer to replace his cabinet is unlikely to be viewed as a major concession; Mr. Mubarak often changes ministers without undertaking fundamental reforms.

A crowd of young men who had gathered around car radios on a bridge in downtown Cairo to listen to the speech said they were enraged by it, saying that they had heard it before and wanted him to go. “Leave, leave,” they chanted, vowing to return to the streets the next day. “Down, down with Mubarak.”

A bonfire of office furniture from the ruling party headquarters was burning nearby, and the carcasses of police vehicles were still smoldering. The police appeared to have retreated from large parts of the city.

Protesters throughout the day on Friday spoke of the military’s eventual deployment as a foregone conclusion, given the scale of the uprising and Egyptian history. The military remains one of Egypt’s most esteemed institutions, a source of nationalist pride.

It was military officers who led the coup that toppled the British-backed monarch here in 1952, and all four of Egypt’s presidents, including Mr. Mubarak, a former air force commander, have risen to power through the ranks of the military. It has historically been a decisive factor in Egyptian politics and has become a major player — a business owner — in the economy as well.

Some protesters seemed to welcome the soldiers, even expressing hopes that the military would somehow take over and potentially oust Mr. Mubarak. Others said they despaired that, unlike the relatively small and apolitical army in Tunisia, the Egyptian military was loyal first of all to its own institutions and alumni, including Mr. Mubarak.

“Will they stage a coup?” asked Hosam Sowilan, a retired general and a former director of a military research center here. “This will never happen.” He added: “The army in Tunisia put pressure on Ben Ali to leave. We are not going to do that here. The army here is loyal to this country and to the regime.”

One of the protesters leaving a mosque near Cairo was Mohamed ElBaradei, an Egyptian who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the International Atomic Energy Agency and has since emerged as a leading critic of the government.

“This is the work of a barbaric regime that is in my view doomed,” he said after being sprayed by a water cannon.

Now, he said, “it is the people versus the thugs.”

David D. Kirkpatrick and Kareem Fahim reported from Cairo and Ethan Bronner from Jerusalem. Reporting was contributed by Mona El-Naggar, Liam Stack and Dawlat Magdy and Anthony Shadid from Cairo, Alan Cowell from Paris, and J. David Goodman, Maria Newman and Christine Hauser from New York.