Liveblogging Egypt: Day 3

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Tracking the ongoing demonstrations and government response

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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.


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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.

10:26 a.m. EST / 6:26 p.m. Cairo  Both Mohamed ElBaradei and the Muslim Brotherhood have issued statements pledging to unify for a hypothetical transitional government. Baradei, a liberal opposition figure and former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, is internationally known but less prominent within Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood represents much of the conservative opposition. While neither Baradei nor the Muslim Brotherhood likely represent anything close to a majority, they are two of the best known opposition figures in Egypt. Incorporating these disparate opposition factions under a unity transitional government could help promote peace and cooperation until a hypothetical election. And there is, for better worse, more than Egyptian opinion to consider. As The Century Foundation's Michael Wahid Hanna puts it, "Baradei's role is highly contested, especially among activists, but his public role as credible spokesman on US TV screens will be very important."

10:12 a.m. EST / 6:12 p.m. Cairo  If you're looking to understand the feelings of pride, defiance, and euphoria in Egypt today, you could do a lot worse than Anthony Shadid's dispatch in the New York Times.

CAIRO -- Liberation Square was liberated Saturday.

Shadowed by the landmarks of a government that turned promises of secular nationalism into a withering authoritarianism, thousands of young people did what the state of President Hosni Mubarak never allowed in 29 years. They seized control of their lives.


9:50 a.m. EST / 5:50 Cairo
  In an indication that earlier concerns of a military crackdown may have been overblown, Al Jazeera reports that military officials are telling protesters in Tahrir Square, Cairo, that they will not stand in the protesters' way.

9:36 a.m. EST / 5:36 Cairo  Yesterday, protesters rushed the Ministry of Interior, which is responsible for the notorious internal security forces. The protesters were unsuccessful and police used live fire to defend to defend the building, killing an unknown number of civilians, but it was a telling moment of just how far the protesters have pushed the regime. Jon Jensen of Global Post has produced this dramatic and moving video of the protesters' assault.

9:29 a.m. EST / 5:19 p.m. Cairo  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking this morning on network news shows, called for a peaceful transition to democracy in Egypt. Clinton said the U.S. opposes Egypt becoming a "military dictatorship" but noted that the military has so far shown restraint. Clinton denied earlier reports that the U.S. was "reviewing" its massive aid to Egypt, saying there had been no discussions about canceling or reducing it. In the Obama administration's strongest statement to date, Clinton told Fox News that the U.S. wants an "orderly transition" in Egypt. Given that it's near-impossible to foresee any free election reelecting Mubarak, especially after his crackdown has claimed well over 100 lives, it's difficult to read Clinton's comments as anything but the U.S. calling for an end to Mubarak's rule.

We want to see an orderly transition so that no one fills a void, that there not be a void, that there be a well thought-out plan that will bring about a democratic participatory government.

9:18 a.m. EST / 5:18 p.m. Cairo  Al Jazeera has not slowed its coverage out of Egypt despite the government ordering it to close at 10:55 a.m. Cairo time. Al Jazeera has issued a statement condemning the closure and pledging to continue coverage, which it has, although the network no longer references its correspondents in Egypt by name.

9:13 a.m. EST / 5:13 p.m. Cairo  Al Jazeera reports a rapidly growing military presence in Cairo, including tanks, troop carrier trucks, helicopters, and the fighter jets mentioned below. With the protests having grown over the past 48 hours and the regime's position weakened, there are wide fears that the government may order the military to use deadly force. Here are some reports, thoughts, and speculation from reporters and well-sourced analysts.

Regime's only path to remaining in power is by massacre. For US, no risk in letting go of them b/c even if remains would be totally illegitless than a minute ago via web


An opposition figure in #Egypt called me, in tears, telling me he's hearing army will receive orders to shoot to kill tonight #jan25less than a minute ago via Tweetie for Mac


Being told by activists they are seeing signs of split in military - hardline faction & one sympathetic to protesters #jan25less than a minute ago via Tweetie for Mac


Brotherhood figure tells me: "tonight is the night" & fears major bloodshed #jan25 #egyptless than a minute ago via Tweetie for Mac


News from Egypt +stories from friends in Cairo frightening. Mubarak won't give up easily. Question is how ugly army will let it get.less than a minute ago via TweetDeck


Hearing so much fear and anger from friends in Egypt right now, things getting ugly + nobody knows what's really happening at top.less than a minute ago via TweetDeck


Absolutely crucial for Obama to send clear message to military that live fire on protestors would be red line for future relationship.less than a minute ago via TweetDeck


Buzzing "hostiles" w/ jets: time-worn tactic. Loud noise tortures those below, raises fear of bombs. USAF does it in Afghanistan every day.less than a minute ago via Twitter for BlackBerry®



8:56 a.m. EST / 4:56 p.m. Cairo  Egyptian fighter jets are flying extremely low over Tahrir Square in Cairo, which has been a focal point of the protests since they began on January 25. It's not clear if the frequent fly-overs, which have been so close that their roar has overpowered media broadcasts out of the square, are meant to intimidate protesters. If that is the intention, it is not having that effect.

8:45 a.m. EST / 3:45 p.m. Cairo  As Egypt's nationwide 4 p.m. curfew nears, protesters still occupy much of Cairo as well as Suez, Alexandria, and elsewhere. The police have largely withdrawn from the major cities, leaving them potentially lawless, although there are many reports of Egyptian citizens informally handling everything from directing traffic to organizing night watches. All eyes are on the military, which has a massive presence in the streets but has so far played a peaceful role and showed indications of passively supporting the protesters.

Read our coverage from January 28, January 29 part one and January 29 part two. The Daily Dish is also providing live coverage.

Photo Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty


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

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