Liveblogging Egypt: Day 3


Tracking the ongoing demonstrations and government response

1:14 p.m. EST / 9:14 p.m. Cairo  Unwilling to let their movement disperse even for a few hours of sleep, many protesters are setting up tents or blankets in Tahrir Square, which has been a focal point of the nationwide protests. Democracy Now's Sharif Kouddous reports from Cairo, " A few tents in the middle of the square. Some people lying down on grass. Many will sleep here. They refuse to leave." It's a sign not just of the absolute dedication of many protesters, which has only strengthened since the demonstrations began on Tuesday, but the nagging anxiety, vaguely apparent in many interviews with the men and women filling Egypt's streets, that the movement could peter out, the momentum could be lost. This photo by Danny Ramadan shows protesters waking up this morning after spending what must have been a very cold night sleeping on the ground in Tahrir Square.

1:04 p.m. EST / 9:04 p.m. Cairo  The Egyptian police's desertion of the streets has left much of Egypt susceptible to looting or vandalism. On Saturday, there were isolated reports of plains-clothe police on motorcycles looting stores and some homes. Many Egyptians have taken to setting up neighborhood patrols and checkpoints to provide local security. But what is so far an inspiring example of grassroots civil society could easily spark something worse. Anxious and armed young men can provide security now, but it's easy to foresee an over-eager "checkpoint" team making a mistake or getting carried away with someone they perceive as an enemy. This hasn't happened yet, but it will remain a serious risk until order can be restored, although with the police loyal to Mubarak and the military unable to patrol side streets, it's not clear who would step in. Here's a tweet from The New York Times' Nick Kristof, one of many such reports coming from Cairo suburbs and elsewhere.

My taxi was stopped every 100 yds by private roadblocks, w/ tense young men w/ bats & machetes, looking for looters & cops.less than a minute ago via web

12:46 p.m. EST / 8:46 p.m. Cairo  Foreign Policy's Blake Hounshell reports that the video of ElBaradei from Tahrir Square shows Osama al-Ghazali Harb at his side. Harb resigned from Mubarak's National Democratic Party in 2006 and has since edited the Egyptian publication Al-Siyassa Al-Dawliya and become something of an opposition figure. Hounshell writes, "He's a good dude."

12:35 p.m. EST / 8:35 p.m. Cairo  Mohamed ElBaradei, holding a bullhorn amid the massive crowd at Tahrir Square, made what appears to have been a very brief but forceful statement. It's not clear if he said more or is still in the square.

They have stolen our freedom. What we have begun cannot be reversed. And as we mentioned before we have a key demand: for the regime to step down and to start a new era.

12:21 p.m. EST / 8:21 p.m. Cairo  An Al Jazeera correspondent in Alexandria makes the important point that the majority of protesters' signs are in English, not Arabic. The U.S. leadership, which is very close to Egypt's military and the Mubarak regime, are presumably their target. The U.S. is stuck right square in the middle of this, whether we want to be or not. Update: National Journal's Niraj Chokshi points out that the signs may be in English to maximize their global impact, not to target U.S. government leadership. "Signs in English means most of the world will understand."

12:13 p.m. EST / 8:13 p.m. Cairo  Should the U.S. keep its distance from Mohamed ElBaradei, whom opposition groups are unifying behind to take over at interim president? The Obama administration would likely be very happy to see the liberal, internationally minded ElBaradei take over. But an official U.S. endorsement of ElBaradei for interim president, some U.S.-based analysts warn, could tar him for many Egyptians. Part of Mubarak's unpopularity comes from the Egyptian perception that he is an American puppet. A June 2010 Pew report finds a 17 percent favorability rating for the U.S. among Egyptians, down from 27 percent the year before.

11:48 a.m. EST / 7:48 p.m. Cairo  The New Yorker's Jane Mayer shares some interesting details on General Omar Suleiman, whom Mubarak yesterday appointed as the country's first vice president since 1981, making him the presumed regime successor. "Suleiman is a well-known quantity in Washington. Suave, sophisticated, and fluent in English, he has served for years as the main conduit between the United States and Mubarak." But she notes his "controversial baggage" as "the C.I.A.'s point man in Egypt for renditions--the covert program in which the C.I.A. snatched terror suspects from around the world and returned them to Egypt and elsewhere for interrogation, often under brutal circumstances."

11:27 a.m. EST / 7:27 p.m. Cairo  Mohamed ElBaraei has arrived in Tahrir Square and is expected to make a statement to the crowd soon. Al Jazeera reports that ElBaradei's statement will include a plea for the military to align itself with the protest movement.

11:03 a.m. EST / 7:03 p.m. Cairo  Al Jazeera English reports that opposition groups have unified behind Mohamed ElBaradei, who they have selected as the planned interim president if they are successful in forcing President Hosni Mubarak from power. ElBaradei is reportedly now on his way to Tahrir Square in Cairo.

11:01 a.m. EST / 7:01 p.m. Cairo  Marcy Wheeler points out a curious change in the Obama administration's stance towards Egypt. On Friday, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that the U.S. was "reviewing" its billions of dollars in annual aid to Egypt. This morning, however, Clinton insisted there was "no discussion as of this time about cutting off any aid." It's possible that the discrepancy was due to confusion or miscommunication. Or, Gibbs' statement on Friday may have been part of a U.S. warning to some part of the Egyptian government, most likely its military, which receives $1.2 billion in annual U.S. aid, has a close working relationship with the U.S. military, and senior officials of which were visiting the Pentagon earlier this week. If that is the case, Clinton's statement would indicate that the U.S. has backed off its threat, possibly as reward for some action or pledge from the Egyptians. It's worth pointing out that the military has so far refrained from either attacking protesters or staging a coup, both of which the U.S. has clearly called for it not to do.   

10:45 a.m. EST / 6:45 p.m. Cairo  What is the political role of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt? The Wall Street Journal's Yaroslav Trofimov profiled their political struggle in May 2009.

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt -- Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood is on the defensive, its struggles reverberating throughout Islamist movements that the secretive organization has spawned world-wide.

Just recently, the Brothers' political rise seemed unstoppable. Candidates linked with the group won most races they contested in Egypt's 2005 parliamentary elections, gaining a record 20% of seats. Across the border in Gaza, another election the following year propelled the Brotherhood's Palestinian offshoot, Hamas, into power.

Since then, Egypt's government jailed key Brotherhood members, crimped its financing and changed the constitution to clip religious parties' wings. The Brotherhood made missteps, too, alienating many Egyptians with saber rattling and proposed restrictions on women and Christians. These setbacks have undermined the group's ability to impose its Islamic agenda on this country of 81 million people, the Arab world's largest.

10:36 a.m. EST / 6:36 p.m. Cairo  Was Clinton (see her comments below) really calling for an end to Mubarak's rule? Foreign Policy's Marc Lynch isn't so sure. "Clinton statement strong, shift in tone, but regime seeking wiggle room might find it," he warns. "Clinton comments seem aimed less at Mubarak than at military officers who may soon seize power that US expects democratic transition after." In other words, Clinton may have meant that if there is a "transition" -- say, a military coup -- then the U.S. expects an election.

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Max Fisher is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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