For the past three days the world has watched as Egypt has fallen into complete unrest with unprecedented protests demanding an end to President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule in which at least eight people have been killed. Today Egypt’s biggest protests yet were planned to take place after Friday Prayers. In an attempt to limit any organisation of resistance the government shut down all mobile networks and internet services late Thursday night, despite this Sky News reporter Tim Marsh found a way to tweet from Cairo at 0840 this morning. The Egyptian Association for Change claims police are preparing to torch vehicles as a pretext for putting down the demonstration. At 1026 today Wikileaks released a timely new cable on police brutality in Egypt. Less than an hour later we hear from Al-Jazeera that within seconds of Friday prayers finishing tear gas, water cannons and “sound bombs” were used against protestors as they continued to chant “down down Hosni Mubarak”
Though Cairo, Egypt’s capitol is the centre of today’s attentions regional Egyptian television stations are reporting clashes between thousands of protesters and police in several major cities outside Cairo, including the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, Minya and Assiut south of Cairo and al-Arish in the Sinai Peninsula. Come the afternoon BBC Arabic says approximately 4,000 protesters have surrounded the Suez governate building and are chanting “Free Egypt, Mubarak out.” An Al Jazeera reporter in the area said 2 soldiers in Suez had charges issued against them for refusing to fire live ammunition overnight. As the violence escalated it was made clear that nobody was safe, a CNN crew has had its camera smashed by plainclothes police whilst BBC journalist Assad Sawey says he was beaten by police while covering a demonstration by about 15,000 people in central Cairo. He says plainclothes police deliberately targeted him, even after he identified himself. “When they arrested me they started beating me up with steel bars,” he says. “A number of foreign journalists were there and they were all loaded onto trucks… The police were very, very violent today.”
By 1300 around 40,000 protestors had taken over the headquarters of the National Democratic Party (NDP) meanwhile a soaking wet Mohamed ElBaradei, the pro-democracy leader, was trapped inside a mosque while hundreds of riot police laid siege to it, firing tear gas in the streets around so no one could leave. The tear gas canisters set several cars ablaze outside the mosque and several people fainted and suffered burns. An hour later Le Figaro confirms that four French journalists, including one member of their staff, were arrested earlier in the day, and that they have since been released. “They were arrested in the street by plainclothes police officers who released them after about an hour of discussions,” senior editor Philippe Gelie told the AFP news agency.
At 1437 it is announced that a protester has been killed during clashes with police in Suez, witnesses say the body is being carried through the centre of city by an angry crowd. Minute’s later Egyptian security officials tell the Associated Press that Mohamed ElBaradei is now under house arrest in Cairo. He earlier took part in two demonstrations in Giza. An hour later Egyptian authorities announce a curfew from 1800 (1600 GMT) in Greater Cairo, Alexandria and Suez. Within the hour following this announcement the government buildings occupied by protesters have been set alight. Despite all of these actions Egyptian state media is determined to play down the protests and are limiting any coverage of them. Throughout the afternoon messages from protesters, journalists and world dignitaries flood in to the world’s media. With many voices desperately urging President Mubarak to allow peaceful protests it seems the message is going unheard as the streets of Egypt hold an increasingly strong military presence. 1800 comes and goes with no attention being paid by protesters to the imposed curfew. Come 1900 Medical sources are now telling Reuters at least five people have been killed in Cairo’s protests.
Today has shown fantastically the power of the internet within today’s media, political and activist circles. Whilst writing this article I have been able to keep up to date with live feeds from various news organisations including the BBC and Guardian as well as live footage broadcast by Al-Jazeera. Not without mentioning the amazing tool that is Twitter, the use of hashtags has been an excellent way to keep in touch with what is happening and send messages out. All of this a beautiful metaphor? @jeremylittau tweets: “The more I learn about how #Egypt protest has no leader, more I realize this is an uprising for the Internet age. Decentralized and social.”
As the night goes on we see countries including France and the UK advise against any travel to Egypt at this time although no rescue missions like the one seen by Thomas Cook to Tunisia have been announced. The fate of Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak, his entire state apparatus, and that of the popular uprising confronting them now depends largely on the actions of his army and security forces. This is the most serious popular challenge to his 30-year rule that anyone can remember, and if these protests continue and intensify there are bound to be senior voices within the military tempted to urge him to stand down.