Tracking the ongoing demonstrations and government response
1:34 p.m. EST / 8:34 p.m. Cairo Graeme Wood has this dispatch from Tahrir Square today. He describes the crackdown in grim detail. Excerpt below; read the whole thing. Also see Larry Diamond on Egypt's road to democracy.
The pro-Mubarak group flooded the square, and its strategy became clear: All the entrances to the plaza were being probed and, if found lightly defended, overrun. I was now on the outside among the forward surge; no one was permitted to leave, but a trickle of captured protesters came out, each surrounded by at least a hundred screaming Mubarak supporters, and being beaten so intensely that I couldn't see their faces, only a circle of waving sticks and fists, raining down on whatever unfortunate was at the center. One female protester was brought out, thrashed, and delivered to a military unit inside the Egyptian Museum grounds. At one point a man was being crowd-surfed out and beaten; one of the pro-Mubarak men said he was a "Chinese journalist." "We will stay," the man said, "and then go into the square and take it over."
1:25 p.m. EST / 8:25 p.m. Cairo In an ongoing press conference, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the time is "now" for the Egyptian government to "begin the transition" to a democratic government. "It is imperative that the violence we are seeing stop and that the transition that we talked about last night begin immediately," he said. This repeats the U.S. position that Mubarak must leave office right away. Gibbs describes Obama's conversation with Mubarak as "direct," "frank," and "candid," all standard diplomatic codes for what a normal person might call harsh or confrontational. Gibbs also reiterated that the U.S. will continue to "review" its substantial aid package to Egypt based on the behavior of the country's leadership, whoever that is. Gibbs refused questions on what exactly the U.S. would like Egypt's transition to look like -- it could mean an interim government, for example, or moving up the September presidential elections -- but reiterated that it must happen now.
1:12 p.m. EST / 8:12 p.m. Cairo Is the military preparing to force out Mubarak? The New York Times thinks so. "Instead of protecting him, there is increasing evidence that over the last three days the military establishment -- one of the most respected institutions in Egyptian society, and the crucial factor in deciding control of the streets -- may have been moving toward pushing Mr. Mubarak out," they report. Other than fragmentary and unconfirmed reports of splitting up clashing pro-government forces from protesters, the military has so far not intervened. However, there are some signs (see time stamp 12:33 p.m. EST) that the military may be preparing to retake the now-chaotic streets of Cairo.
1:05 p.m. EST / 8:05 p.m. Cairo The New York Times reports on the "diplomatic scramble" in Washington as the Obama administration struggles to find the right response.
The story of how Mr. Mubarak, an Arab autocrat who only last month was the mainstay of America's policy in a turbulent region, suddenly found himself pushed toward the exit is first and foremost a tale of the Arab street.
But it is also one of political calculations, in Cairo and Washington, which were upset repeatedly as the crowds swelled. And it is the story of a furious scramble by the Obama White House -- right up until Mr. Obama's call Tuesday night for change to begin "now" -- to catch up with a democracy movement unfolding so rapidly that Washington came close to being left behind.
12:48 p.m. EST / 7:48 p.m. Cairo Violence against journalists, already high today, has increased over the past hour. Historically, governments tend to target journalists in advance of an act it does not want the world to witness. Government forces have eased their assault in recent hours but there are fears the attacks could resume in the night.
Reporters Without Borders says it had received dozens of confirmed reports of violence against in #egypt.
Government "is employing a strategy of eliminating witnesses to their actions," Committee to Protect Journalists tells The Times #egypt
I was chased by angry mobs twice, kicked a few times, had rocks thrown at me. Crowd very hostile to journalists (esp. AJ), foreigners.
Just saw a foreign journalist being chased by a mob with weapons. He was alone. They got him. God help him
12:41 p.m. EST / 7:41 p.m. Cairo Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood has issued a statement praising the protesters and military, declaring its allegiance with all other opposition groups regardless of ideology, and refusing to negotiate with the government amid violence. Follow the above link for the original Arabic and English translation.