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Monday
Jan312011

Egypt (and Beyond) LiveBlog: So What is an "Orderly Transition"?

2250 GMT: Ivan Watson of CNN reports that the Egyptian Ministry of Information has told them all cell phone service will be shut down just ahead of tomorrow's expected 'Million Man March'. 

2242 GMT: Are you in Egypt? Do you have a phone? Do you want to tweet about the uprising, but don't have internet because it has been shut down? Then, Google has good news for you and us all. Googleblog just ran this post

Like many people we’ve been glued to the news unfolding in Egypt and thinking of what we could do to help people on the ground. Over the weekend we came up with the idea of a speak-to-tweet service—the ability for anyone to tweet using just a voice connection.

We worked with a small team of engineers from Twitter, Google and SayNow, a company we acquired last week, to make this idea a reality. It’s already live and anyone can tweet by simply leaving a voicemail on one of these international phone numbers (+16504194196 or +390662207294 or +97316199855) and the service will instantly tweet the message using the hashtag #egypt. No Internet connection is required. People can listen to the messages by dialing the same phone numbers or going to twitter.com/speak2tweet.

We hope that this will go some way to helping people in Egypt stay connected at this very difficult time. Our thoughts are with everyone there.

2226 GMT: The government has cut off the last Egyptian ISP providing internet to citizens - Noor. With Noor's disconnection which follows the disconnection of all the other ISPs in the country, Egypt becomes the first country to be completely shut off from the rest the web by its regime in the history of internet. 

2222 GMT: Nile News is showing hundreds of people gathering with banners in support of President Mubarak. One banner reads in Arabic, "Yes to Mubarak!" 

@Evanchill of Al Jazeera tweets:

Egypt state TV correspondent asks viewers, "What can we tell the misguided youth in Midan Tahrir?" 

2218 GMT: More confusion or propaganda? Egyptian state TV is now broadcasting footage over and over, shoing pro-Mubarak protesters - thousands of them possibly - now marching towards Tahrir Square in Cairo. 

2145 GMT: Multiple sources are reporting that Egyptian authorities have closed the last Internet "window", Noor Online, in Egypt.

Noor was kept open during the shutdown of Web services on Friday, possibly because the provider was used by vital financial and corporate interests, including the Egyptian Stock Market.

2110 GMT: The US national football team has cancelled its match with Egypt in Cairo on 9 February due to "current conditions in the country".

2048 GMT: The Obama Administration has reportedly despatched Frank G. Wisner a former Ambassador to Egypt, to Cairo for talks with the regime.

2045 GMT: Vice President Omar Suleiman has said that President Hosni Mubarak entrusted him to begin talks with all political factions. Suleiman also said the government will announce several political reforms within days, with the priorities of fighting unemployment and abolishing corruption.

2010 GMT: Protesters in Tahrir Square in Cairo have reportedly set up four large screens showing broadcasts of Al Jazeera and Al Jazeera Live, apparently bypassing the Egyptian Government's attempt to block the services.

1945 GMT: Moody's Investors Service has downgraded Egypt's government bond ratings and changed the outlook from stable to negative.

1935 GMT: Two rival groups in Syria are waging a Facebook battle over a possible protest on 4 February.

“The Syria Revolution 2011” is planning a demonstration against President Bashar al-Assad after Friday Prayers, describing his rule as dictatorship.

A rival group posted a picture of al-Assad and the caption "We Love You". It called “The Syria Revolution 2011” group “backward”.

Earlier today, each group had more than 6000 members.

1930 GMT: Reuters offers the fullest summary of the Egyptian military's statement (see 1825 GMT):

 

"The presence of the army in the streets is for your sake and to ensure your safety and wellbeing. The armed forces will not resort to use of force against our great people," the army statement said.

 

"Your armed forces, who are aware of the legitimacy of your demands and are keen to assume their responsibility in protecting the nation and the citizens, affirms that freedom of expression through peaceful means is guaranteed to everybody."

It urged people not resort to acts of sabotage that violate security and destroy public and private property. It warned that it would not allow outlaws and to loot, attack and "terrorise citizens".

 

1925 GMT: The Central Bank of Egypt said banks will be closed on Tuesday.

1825 GMT: Claims are circulating, citing Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, that the Egyptian military has issued a statement saying it recognises protesters' demands as "legitimate" and it will not shoot upon protesters.

Al Jazeera English has not yet carried a report on such as statement.

The BBC says that the military statement, carried on State TV, said it "will not use force against the people" but also warned against "the carrying out of any act that destabilises the security of the country", according to state television.

1750 GMT: Al Jazeera reports 50,000 marched today in Beni Suef (pop: 220,000), 115 kilometres/72 miles south of Cairo.

1739 GMT: Al Jazeera reports on closures of businesses and problems with food distribution.

1735 GMT: Tahrir Square in Cairo today:

1655 GMT: Al Jazeera reports 120,000 people have marched in Mansoura (pop: 420,000) in northeast Egypt. A participant explains that, while today's demonstration has ended, even more people will turn out tomorrow.

1640 GMT: A scene from Tahrir Square in Cairo --- a little girl holds up a sign, "Mubarak get out, my arm's hurting already."

1635 GMT: Could this be sign of the end for the President? Actor Omar Sharif has come out against Hosni Mubarak.

1630 GMT: Reports earlier of 100,000 protesters in Mahalla (population 500,000).

1625 GMT: Thousands of demonstrators have reportedly headed for Misr train station in Alexandria for a sit-in.

1610 GMT: The demonstration of more than 20,000 people from Shubra (see 1155 GMT) has reportedly reached Tahrir Square in Cairo.

1600 GMT: Back from an academic break to find that the State Department has tweeted, "We intend to evacuate about 900 Americans from Egypt today and will continue evacuations on Tues."

1412 GMT: Al Jazeera says that almost $500 million has been withdrawn from the country in the past few days. Meanwhile, the government is still trying to save face by ignoring the protests and not giving them coverage on its broadcast media. A reporter tweets

Egypt state TV camera pans from Zamalek slowly to the Corniche and stops right before you would see the thousands in Tahrir. 

Live pictures on Al Jazeera show the square completely packed with protesters, numbering in the tens of thousands. 

1350 GMT: Amazing pictures from Tahrir Square in Cairo. Thousands of protesters have filled the square and are chanting very loudly. The square itself looks completely filled with men and women. The Army at the same time is brining giant concrete barriers seemingly to try and close off the square to public. 

1346 GMT: Al Jazeera reports now that six of its journalists that were arrested have now been released. Their equipment, however, has been kept. 

1324 GMT: We will be on an academic break until 1500 GMT. Live coverage continues via the broadcast of Al Jazeera English.

1320 GMT: A screen-grab of the swearing-in of the new Egyptian Cabinet:

1315 GMT: Al Jazeera is reporting more than 250,000 people are now in Tahrir Square in Cairo.

1300 GMT: The curfew has now begun.

1250 GMT: About 50,000 are protesting in Bani Suwafy, south of Cairo. In Fayyum, 80 miles south of Cairo, 40,000 people are demonstrating for the downfall of the regime. About 1500 have gathered in Tanta, north of the capital.

The new Minister of Finance, contrary to earlier reports, is Samir Mohamed Radwan. Aboul Gheit remains as Foreign Minister, Mohamed Hussein Tantawi is now Deputy Prime Minister as well as Minister of Defense, and Samiha Fawzi Ibrahim is Minister of Trade.

1245 GMT: An observer reports, "Tahrir Square is a massive festival, Morale is high, numbers are huge. The lawyers were there when I was. People and Army are super nice."

1225 GMT: Al Jazeera reports a sixth member of its staff has been arrested.

Equipment has been seized, as the six journalists and crew are held at an army checkpoint outside the Hilton Hotel next to Al Jazeera English's bureau.

1215 GMT: John Rugman of Britain's Channel 4 messages, "Tahrir Square like a family picnic. More women now, babies. Everyone offering us food. 1000s here."

1210 GMT: Five members of Al Jazeera's production team in Cairo have been arrested. The channel still has a correspondent at Tahrir Square.

One of those detained, Dan Nolan --- whose report from a Cairo morgue angered authorities --- simply tweeted, "Arrested by military".

1204 GMT: Al Arabiya claims Rachid Mohamed Rachid, Minister of Trade and Industry since 2004, declined to join the new Cabinet.

1159 GMT: An interesting look in The New York Times at the interaction of the "old guard" and young activists in the planning of protest last week:

 

Last Thursday, a small group of Internet-savvy young political organizers gathered in the Cairo home of an associate of Mohamed ElBaradei, the diplomat and Nobel laureate....

 

Surprised by the turnout [on 25 January], older opposition leaders from across the spectrum —-- including the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood; the liberal protest group the Egyptian Movement for Change, known by its slogan, “Enough”; and the umbrella group organized by Dr. ElBaradei —-- joined in, vowing to turn out their supporters for another day of protest on Friday. But the same handful of young online organizers were still calling the shots.

They decided to follow a blueprint similar to their previous protest, urging demonstrators to converge on the central Liberation Square. So they drew up a list of selected mosques around Cairo where they asked people to gather at Friday Prayer before marching together toward the square. Then they distributed the list through e-mail and text messages, which spread virally. They even told Dr. ElBaradei which mosque he should attend, people involved said.

 

1155 GMT: Al Jazeera reports that more than 20,000 are now in the march from Shubra, reportedly organised by the Muslim Brotherhood, approaching Tahrir Square in Cairo. A protest march of lawyers is also on the way.

1145 GMT: Al Jazeera confirms news, which we posted from Reuters, that General Mahmoud Wagdy, a highly-decorated police officer, is the new Minister of Interior. He held important posts in the late 1990s in the Governate of Minya, earning a reputation for curbing terrorism in that area.

Wagdy, who hade become head of Egypt's Prison Authority, was forced into early retirement in 2003, reportedly because of differences with former Minister of Interior Habib el-Adly.

Wagdy's appointment means that, with Vice President Omar Suleiman and Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq the top three posts in the Cabinet are held by those with backgrounds in the military and security services.

1130 GMT: The new Egyptian Cabinet is being named. Headline so far is that General Mahmoud Wagdy replaces the long-time Minister of Interior Habib el-Adly. Goudat El-Malt, formerly of the audit office, is now Minister of Finance.

1048 GMT: Very loud chants now around Tahrir Square as new demonstrations proceed. One appears to be from Shubra, a couple of kilometres away.

Al Jazeera correspondent says this is the "most organised" demonstration he has seen during the week.

1045 GMT: Al Arabiya is reporting a "massive protest" in Alexandria. Al Jazeera says neighbourhood watch groups are refusing to allow police to patrol their streets.

1035 GMT: The Rafah border with Gaza remains closed indefinitely. Al Jazeera English is reporting on Palestinians who escaped from Egyptian jails and returned to Gaza in the last 72 hours.

1020 GMT: Dan Nolan of Al Jazeera writes, "No ATMs making life hard for all but at least we have credit cards. Most Egyptians use cash. Many feeling very much under siege."

1015 GMT: Egypt's stock exchange and banks remain closed.

1010 GMT: Ben Wedeman of CNN reports, "Lots of gunfire in Maadi [upper-income section of Cairo]. Many foreigners, Egyptians have left or are leaving. Stores full of buyers stocking up."

1000 GMT: No major developments, but it is notable that Al Jazeera English is not identifying correspondents or their locations "for security and safety" amidst the pressure from Egyptian authorities.

 

It is still easy to recognise Ayman Mohyeldin's voice but you will not hear his name for the foreseeable future on the channel.

In Suez, it is "too dangerous" for Al Jazeera to film on the streets except at a military checkpoint. Footage shot from their office window shows tension between the military and the public over the arrest of looters.

In Alexandria, footage shows a funeral for a member of the Muslim Brotherhood turning into an anti-Government march.

0914 GMT: The Wall Street Journal claims that, in an interview with their reporters, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he would push through political reforms this year, including a start to municipal elections, more power to nongovernmental organizations, and a new media law.

0910 GMT: Participants in the Tahrir Square protest in Cairo say some people are being prevented by police and the Army from getting to the square. Only one access point is open.

0834 GMT: The Obama Administration puts out its message through John Barry at Newsweek, who paints the picture of US officials watching Hosni Mubarak on Saturday night:

 

As the Egyptian president spoke —-- a couple of the Arabic speakers in the room providing translation —-- the optimism died. Mubarak announced he was dismissing his government; he talked of reforms. But he also made clear his determination to stay on. There were groans, shaking of heads. This wasn’t going to be enough to halt the tumult in half of Egypt’s cities, and, more disconcertingly, Mubarak’s assertion that the demonstrations were “part of a bigger plot to shake the stability” of Egypt sounded ominous. The Egyptian president had called out the Army on Friday; now his speech sounded as if he was preparing to use it. President Obama’s Middle East advisers believed that if Egyptian security forces opened fire on demonstrators, the country would likely explode. As Mubarak ended his address, someone in the room voiced the thought on everyone’s mind: “Well, what do we do now?”

 

In the White House, that judgment was swiftly made. Mubarak’s speech was a climactic moment: It was time for President Obama to act.

 

0825 GMT: On Saturday night, the Israeli Foreign Ministry issued a directive to key embassies in the US, Canada, China, Russia, and several European countries. Ambassadors were told, "as soon as possible", to stress to their host countries the importance of Egypt's stability.

"The Americans and the Europeans are being pulled along by public opinion and aren't considering their genuine interests," one senior Israeli official said. "Even if they are critical of Mubarak they have to make their friends feel that they're not alone. Jordan and Saudi Arabia see the reactions in the West, how everyone is abandoning Mubarak, and this will have very serious implications."

Israel's Security Cabinet will discuss the situation today.

0805 GMT: A report comes in that Al Jazeera Arabic and AlJazeera Mubasher (Live) are available again via Egyptian-controlled NileSat.

Al Jazeera's services were blocked on NileSat, and its Cairo bureaux were forced to pack up.

0750 GMT: An observer in Cairo lists the signs that the regime is trying to put out the image of authority:

Tahrir Square closed this morning, barbed wire wrapped around the area; army officer told me it'll be shut all day/night....Banks closed too, more tanks on the street, police also being redeployed....Egyptian state TV praising police this morning, saying that they "arrested hundreds of the fugitives" who "escaped" prison this week.

Egypt Latest: Live Coverage from Al Jazeera English
Egypt Video: Protests, Order, and Disorder
Egypt Snap Analysis: Sorting Rumours --- Will the Army Fire? Has Interior Minister Been Arrested?
Egypt (and Beyond) LiveBlog: Restoring Order?

0735 GMT: So Sunday had a dramatic display of protest in Cairo's Tahrir Square, with hundreds of thousands expressing their demand for the fall of the Mubarak regime, but it did not have the dramatic showdown of an Army exercising forces against those protesters.

There was a flutter in the afternoon as military aircraft buzzed the Square, but the rumour that the Minister of Interior had ordered firing on the demonstrators, for violating curfew orders, never materialised. It is unclear whether the rumour ever had any substance and, if so, whether or not the bloodshed was prevented by a firm US warning, resistance from the Army and defense officials, or hesitancy from President Mubarak (see separate entry).

Instead, the regime put out the news that police would reappear on city streets today, and last night Mubarak put out the message via State TV, "The current stage requires us to reorganize the country's priorities in a way that acknowledges the legitimate demands of the people". He commanded new Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq to pursue "a wide range of dialogue with all the (political) parties" to "achieve the democratic process."

Mubarak also called on new government leaders to "stand against anyone committing any forms of corruption" and stressed "the necessity to continue with fair, serious and effective new steps for more political, constitutional and legislative reforms".

The steps, on the surface, may satisfy the Obama Administration's demands --- made by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on television and by the PR machine through the news that the President had called foreign leaders --- for the display of moves to reform. It is unclear, however, if Washington's demand for "orderly transition" means more than reform with the promise by Mubarak that he is standing down --- if so, US officials are keeping this implicit for now.

What is clear is that Mubarak does not see the definition of "transition" as his hopping on the next plane out of Cairo. And that in turn brings us back to the opposition, now symbolised in Tahrir Square. This morning the talk is of "a million-person demonstration", called by the opposition 6 April movement, from the Square.

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