Live blogging the Egyptian uprising
Long time observers of Egypt are fast running out of adjectives to describe their feelings about unfolding events. Unprecedented, stunning, transfixing. I lived there from 2003 to 2008 and dearly love the country. I'll be posting short updates here throughout the day (Friday, Jan. 28) on the fast-moving events in Egypt. This is my first go at this kind of thing, so bear with me.
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12:39 p.m. EST (7:39 p.m. Cairo) RAWYA RAGEH IS REPORTING from Alexandria, for Al Jazeera English, that soldiers are emerging from tanks in the city and shaking hands with protesters. The protesters are all in violation of the curfew the government has declared, but she sees no signs they're trying to push them off the street. It now appears the attempt by protesters to storm the Foreign Ministry was unsuccessful. If protests swell again, will the army be willing to use deadly force against protesters (and take the public blame from the Egyptian people) to save Mubarak? That's the big question. Of course, this all could peter out. Perhaps the violence, including the burning of armored personnel carriers and the NDP headquarters today, will frighten many Egyptians away from further protest. I'm beginning to think it's going to take until at least this time tomorrow to get a full picture of what has happened today.Skip to next paragraph
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12:28 p.m. EST (7:28 p.m. Cairo) THE ASSOCIATED PRESS is reporting that protesters have stormed the Foreign Ministry in Cairo. Details are sketchy, but I will post a link to a full story or more information when I can.
12:07 p.m. EST (7:07 p.m. Cairo) SECRETARY CLINTON SPEAKING LIVE now, calling for restraint by the security forces. This is interesting: "The Egyptian government needs to engage immediately with the Egyptian people" to implement "reform." Still no use of the "democracy" word from a US official regarding Egypt. But that call for "immediate" engagement is new.
11:55 a.m. EST (6:45 p.m. Cairo) TONIGHT IS CRUCIAL for Mubarak. If the ongoing revolt and rioting gain steam – despite the army being called out onto the streets – then senior generals could withdraw their backing and try to massage a transition. Analogy is always difficult, but I was in Indonesia for the May 1998 rioting that ultimately drove President Soeharto from power. (Incidentally, he was a US client who had been in power 32 years at that point. Mubarak is just shy of 30 years on the job.) Here's how it went down. At first there were peaceful student protests, then the police shot and killed about 12 unarmed demonstrators at Trisakti University and the nearby Semanggi interchange in central Jakarta. (I saw a pretty young woman fall with a bullet through her neck.) That, in turn, sparked rioting and looting for the next few days: thousands dead; shopping malls, government offices, and the homes of the president's wealthy cronies looted and burned. Students occupied Parliament. The Army took to the streets of Jakarta and an uneasy calm prevailed, but the country was still seething. A week later on May 20, General Wiranto, the Armed Forces chief, gave an evening press conference with only tepid words of support for Soeharto – a man he'd been swearing undying loyalty to a week before. I remember a friend turning to me as we walked out of Wiranto's presser: "The old man is done," he said. He was right. Soeharto resigned the next day. Indonesia is obviously a very different place from Egypt. But that's one way a seemingly unassailable strong man can be brought down.
11:33 a.m. EST (6:33 p.m. Cairo) REALLY BIG PROTESTS on January 25 when the Internet was up and the cell phones were working. A really massive, full-blown revolt today, 24 hours after the Internet was shut off and text messaging stopped. Good old fashioned street power is the name of the game now. Still waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting for Mubarak to speak. For that matter, still waiting for President Obama to address events in this close Middle Eastern ally.
11:19 a.m. EST (6:19 p.m. Cairo) THIS IS ONE of those times when I wish I were allowed to swear: What certainly looks to be the ruling National Democratic Party's headquarters in central Cairo is being shown ON FIRE by Al Jazeera and Al Jazeera English. I attended meetings in that complex with NDP officials before the rigged November 2010 parliamentary elections, during which they informed me that the party remains supported by the majority of the Egyptian people. (The election gave the party about 95 percent of the seats in Parliament.)