A crackdown in Egypt, and Tunisia too

In the early morning today, truncheon-wielding police and plain-clothes thugs waded into the crowd of thousands in Tahrir Square in Cairo behind an enormous volley of tear gas and violently dispersed them.

Today, there is a heavy riot police presence on the streets of Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt's second city, the Interior Ministry issued a statement declaring protests illegal (a bit of overkill since it was already illegal to hold a gathering of more than 5 people in Egypt without official permission), and activists were reporting the arrests of journalists and riot police surrounding the Press Syndicate in Cairo (where an effort was made to resume Tuesday's protests).

On Tuesday, Egypt's largest protests in a decade -- with large crowds gathering in at least 7 cities to demand the resignation of long-time President Hosni Mubarak -- rattled the regime. So far today, activists report that Twitter service remains blocked in Egypt and in the early afternoon in Egypt, were claiming that Facebook access has also been blocked. That would seem a natural countermove for the Egyptian regime, since much of the online organizing has migrated there, but I haven't confirmed those reports yet.

Twitter is still an excellent source for quick reporting on the developing situation (activists are posting using proxies or simply calling their friends outside) and the main hashtag remains #Jan25.

Egyptian activists are now calling online for another major push against Mubarak and his government on Friday, following afternoon prayers. Between now and then the government will do everything it can to clamp down on organizers and make large protests like Tuesday's impossible.

Meanwhile in Tunisia, the protesters whose spontaneous uprising drove strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from power and into exile earlier this month are finding that securing their gains is a challenge. The protesters' position is that change in Tunisia is purely cosmetic so long as members of Ben Ali's ruling clique remain in power. Most of the senior posts in the interim government, including the prime minister and president, are filled with Ben Ali's erstwhile allies. Al Jazeera reports from Tunis that riot police used tear gas to disperse a crowd of rock throwing protesters and there were "numerous injuries" today.

I'll be checking in with all of this soon. But Egypt's regime does not appear about to crack. And even in Tunisia, the question of whether the uprising will lead to real democratic gains remains very much open.

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