Egypt shuts down Internet, rounds up opposition leaders as protests start
President Barack Obama may have called for Egypt to avoid violence and to allow freedom of speech and assembly ahead of protests scheduled against President Hosni Mubarak today, but early signs are the regime is using most means at its disposal to crush a swelling and stunning wave of dissent in the Arab world's largest country.Skip to next paragraph
Dan Murphy is a staff writer for the Monitor's international desk, focused on the Middle East. Murphy, who has reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, and more than a dozen other countries, writes and edits Backchannels. The focus? War and international relations, leaning toward things Middle East.
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Overnight in Egypt, the government shut down the vast majority of Egypt's Internet service, only allowing a network used by the stock exchange and most banks to stay live. Text message services were shut down in an effort to disrupt protest organization and all cell phone service was ordered shut in select locations according to Vodafone, one of Egypt's two main cellphone companies. There were reports of hundreds of activists detained by the police.
Our correspondent Kristen Chick made her way through billowing clouds of tear gas and thousands of protesters to a Cairo landline to phone in a report this morning on what she's seeing. She says the protesters, many of whom are participating in a demonstration for the first time, are calling for the downfall of the regime and refuse to be beaten back. You can read it here:
Reporters in Cairo said waves of baltageya, plain-clothes thugs allied with state security, were unleashed on the streets. CNN's Ben Wedeman reported on his twitter feed watching a car load of baseball bats being brought into the grounds of the government TV building (some people are still getting internet access via cellphones registered in foreign countries).
There were tens of thousands of protesters, at least, on the streets of Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt's second largest city. Al Jazeera reported that democracy figurehead and Nobel Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei was detained by police, but Al Arabiya was reporting that he and supporters in Cairo were simply penned in by riot police near the mosque in Cairo where they had attended noon prayers.