Liveblogging Egypt: Day 1

By Max Fisher

Tracking the ongoing demonstrations and government response

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Egypt's fourth day of nationwide protests has ended in uncertainty. Police have withdrawn from much of Cairo, Suez, and Alexandria, the largest centers of protest, and the Egyptian military has moved in. The Obama administration has taken a somewhat firmer stance in support of the protesters and says it will "review" the $1.2 billion in annual military aid to Egypt. President Hosni Mubarak gave a jarringly unapologetic speech where he sacked his government, warned protesters he would "not be lax or tolerant," and promised vague "reforms" if Egypt returned to stability. Whatever tomorrow brings for Egypt, The Atlantic will be tracking the news and commentary.

6:51 p.m. EST / 1:51 a.m. Cairo  So far, commentators are mostly critical of the Obama administration's response to the protests in Egypt. "I mean, really, Obama can't even ask for free and fair elections, like the United States does everywhere?" asked Foreign Policy's Blake Hounshell. The comments by Obama, and earlier by Gibbs and Kerry, mostly emphasized the need for Mubarak to institute "reforms," which would seem to assume continued Mubarak rule. However, Obama's statement was mostly directed towards "the Egyptian people" -- clear code for the protest movement -- and he pledged U.S. partnership for the "Egyptian people," who Obama said will "determine the future." This would seem to be an affirmation that, should protesters succeed in overthrowing the regime as they did in Tunisia just weeks ago, the U.S. will consider them a legitimate government rather than oppose them. In other words, if Mubarak remains in power, the U.S. will push him to "reform" but not to leave office. If the protesters force him out, the U.S. will not interfere. As Obama said, "the future will be determined by the Egyptian people" -- not by the White House.

6:40 p.m. EST / 1:40 a.m. Cairo  In a brief public statement, President Obama said that he spoke to Mubarak over the phone after Mubarak's speech promising democratic reforms. "I told him that he has a responsibility to give meaning to those words, to take concrete steps," Obama said. "Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away." Obama called for an end to police violence and for Egypt to lift its block on the Internet. "The people of Egypt have rights that are universal." He listed several, ending with, "The ability to determine their own destiny. These are human rights, and the United Stated will stand up for them everywhere." He emphasized support for Egyptian people. "The future will be determined by the Egyptian people," Obama said. "The Egyptian people want the future that befits the heirs of a great and ancient civilization. The United States will always be a partner to that pursuit."

6:30 p.m. EST / 1:30 a.m. Cairo  Speaking to Al Jazeera English minutes before President Obama is to give a statement on the events in Egypt, Senator John Kerry said, "I think that President Mubarak here has an opportunity to create a transformative moment." He said "that could take many forms." He added, "We all have an interest, everybody has in interest, in not having chaos in the streets, not having violence, not having a violent confrontation." The Al Jazeera host told him, "The U.S. is talking the talk but they're not walking the walk."

5:58 p.m. EST / 12:58 a.m. Cairo  Does the apparent success of Egyptian protesters despite the country's total shut down of the Internet mean we should reconsider our sense of how important the web was for the similar uprising in Tunisia? As Kareem Shaheen of The Abu Dhabi National newspaper wryly put it, "I thank the Egyptian gov for saving us the twitter revolution polemics by proving u can still have an old-fashioned revolution." Since Egypt disconnected the Internet exactly 24 hours ago, the protests have only gained strength. 

5:26 p.m. EST / 12:26 a.m. Cairo  Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, addressing Egyptian people over state TV, announced he was dissolving the Egyptian government and would be appointing a new cabinet. Oddly, Mubarak credited himself with the ongoing demonstrations, saying that he was personally responsible for reforms that made the protests possible. "I exhausted myself for the country," he said.


MORE ON Egyptian Protests:
Shadi Hamid: Obama's Impossible Dilemma in Egypt
Jeffrey Goldberg: Thoughts on the Arab Revolution
Chris Good: Egypt's High-Powered D.C. Lobbying Ties
Eric Trager: Scenes from the First Day of Protest
Megan McArdle: When Does Rioting Work?

However, he warned protesters' aims "cannot be achieved through violence or chaos," adding, "I, as President of the Country will allow citizens to protest within the frontiers of the law. ... I will not be lax or tolerant, I will take all the steps to maintain the safety and security of all egyptians." He also promised to bring "more democracy, more freedoms for citizens" and to "raise the standard of living." In Cairo's streets, the protesters' calls of "down down Mubarak" only grew louder. 

4:43 p.m. EST / 11:43 p.m. Cairo  Egyptian Speaker of the Parliament Ahmed Fathi Sorour will be making an "important announcement" on state TV soon, Al Jazeera and other outlets say the government has notified them. There's no indication what he will say. Mubarak's government has made no official statements today.

4:17 p.m. EST / 11:17 p.m. Cairo  What's next for Egypt's military? With police receding from Cairo's streets and the politically influential military -- senior officials of which were in Washington today -- taking over there as well as in Suez and Alexandria, what happens next is in many ways up to the Egyptian armed forces. Ellen Knickmeyer writes at ForeignPolicy.com, "In the past, many Egyptian officials, and some Egyptian commanders, have declared publicly that the military would move by force if needed to keep Egypt's outlawed opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood, from ever coming to power." Here are thoughts on the military's calculus from the Century Foundation's Michael Wahid Hanna and author Vali Nasr.

Army not supporting is not the same as supporting democracy. Question is whether Army is ready to lose its own powers and privilages? #Egyptless than a minute ago via web


With respect to role of Egy army, key question is how they now perceive that their institutional interests will be better served.less than a minute ago via Twitter for BlackBerry®


If they cast themselves as the heroes of the people and the revolution, will be in powerful position in transition.less than a minute ago via Twitter for BlackBerry®



3:46 p.m. EST / 10:46 p.m. EST  Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has demurred on several questions from reporters on whether the administration is concerned about the possibility that the protests may help empower the Muslim Brotherhood, a prominent opposition party in Egypt. The U.S. has long opposed Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood for its conservative -- and not always pro-Israeli or pro-U.S. -- positions. Gibbs' refusal to maintain that opposition could be a small but significant shift for U.S. policy towards the group.

3:40 p.m. EST / 10:40 p.m. EST  Comic relief: a Twitter user is tweeting under a fake account as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak:

I'll be on TV soon to announce the new changes. First thing will be the replacement of the current people of #Egypt.less than a minute ago via web


Second, the Internet will be turned on again, but it will be read-only. Meaning that you will be able to read, but not write.less than a minute ago via web


Third, to give #Egypt more jobs, everyone that is above the age of 18 will help build the new, Great Pyramid of Mobarak.less than a minute ago via web



3:35 p.m. EST / 10:35 p.m. EST  Riot police are withdrawing from much of Cairo, according to reports from Al Jazeera English, CNN, and the Egyptian protesters. The military is now patrolling the streets in their place. It's still not clear if they will be harsher than the police in cracking down or if they will allow protesters greater reign.

3:26 p.m. EST / 10:26 p.m. EST  In a White House press conference, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs tellingly declined reporters' questions on whether the U.S. still supports Mubarak, saying the administration is "deeply concerned" about police violence and Egypt's Internet shut-down. "This is not about picking a person," he said. He cited "legitimate grievances that have festered for quite some time in Egypt" and that Mubarak must address "immediately." Gibbs said that Mubarak's close work with the U.S. on counterterrorism and on Israel-Palestine negotiations did not forgive, in the administration's eyes, his domestic abuses.

There is a responsibility that is had by the government of Egypt regardless of the role they have played internationally or regionally, they also have to address the grievances that have built up for the same number of years for the country of Egypt. This is an important opportunity to introduce concrete and legitimate reforms ... and that's what we're looking for. ... The time for that to happen has most certainly come. ... Leaders in any country of the world need to be responsive and responsible to the people they govern.

3:14 p.m. EST / 10:14 p.m. Cairo  Is the U.S. "on the wrong side of history" for its 29 years of support for Mubarak and for its $1.2 billion in annual military aid to Egypt? That's the phrase many U.S. and Middle East analysts have used, including Shadi Hamid on TheAtlantic.com. But the Associated Press now reports that the Obama administration is "reviewing" its aid to Egypt. That military aid and its meaning in today's protests are perhaps best summed up by the increasingly common photos of tear gas canisters, used by riot police, stamped with "MADE IN U.S.A."

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2:50 p.m. EST / 9:50 p.m. Cairo
  An Al Jazeera English correspondent in Cairo says that the protesters' response to the military's arrival, which had been welcoming or even celebratory, has turned sharply negative in the last half hour. He warns that he seen only part of the city. One the most significant looming questions on the events in Egypt is what role the military will play and how far it will go in defending the regime. Many protesters apparently expected the military to intervene on their behalf. That it instead appears to be aiding in the crackdown has been a major blow to the protest movement.

2:41 p.m. EST / 9:41 p.m. Cairo  Reuters reports that at least five people have been killed in Cairo today. Al Jazeera English reports five killed in Suez. According to Al-Masry Al-Youm, Cairo hospitals have taken in at least 860 injured protesters. As Egypt enters night, it appears that the scale of the protests has shrunk but also that the government crackdown -- possibly aided by the army -- has become harsher. It's not clear if tonight will yield more violence than what was already a bloody day for Egypt.

2:31 p.m. EST / 9:31 p.m. Cairo  Reporting on Twitter from Cairo, journalist Lars Akerhaug writes, "Clashes still seem to be going on but not the same scale as before." He says of the "scattered riots" still in the city, "For a while it has been quiet around the hotel where we stay. Now we just spotted what is probably a burning vechile not far away." A correspondent for Al Jazeera English says that flash grenades are visible from their hotel.


2:21 p.m. EST / 9:21 p.m. Cairo  Technology blogger Zeynep Tufekci explains how the "dictator's dilemma," in which an autocrat balances a desire to crack down against the risk of only creating further backlash, is exacerbated in Egypt by the role of Al Jazeera and social media.

During times of strong upheaval, as in Egypt, dictator's dilemma roars. The ability to ensure that their struggle and their efforts are not buried in a deep pit of censorship, the ability to continue to have an honest conversation, the ability to know that others know what one knows all combine to create a cycle furthering dissent and upheaval. Citizen-journalism matters most in these scenarios as there cannot be reporters everywhere something is happening, but wherever something is happening there are people with cell phone cameras. Combined with Al-Jazeera re-broadcasting the fruits of people-powered reporting, it all comes down to how much force the authoritarian state is willing and able to deploy - which in turn, depends on the willingness of the security apparatus.

2:16 p.m. EST / 9:16 p.m. Cairo  Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations committee, issued a statement calling on Mubarak to guarantee "free and open" elections, which Mubarak has not allowed during his 29 years of rule. Kerry's statement goes a step further than an earlier statement by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who called  on Mubarak to "exercise restraint in dealing with protesters" and to lift the country's block on Internet access.

2:01 p.m. EST / 9:01 p.m. Cairo  What would a successful ouster of Mubarak mean for Israel? A senior Israeli official told Time, "We believe that Egypt is going to overcome the current wave of demonstrations, but we have to look to the future." Mubarak has been an important ally of Israel. The official added, "I'm not sure the time is right for the Arab region to go through the democratic process." The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg is not optimistic:

Once again, these uprisings are offering proof that Israel isn't the central Arab preoccupation. Wikileaks showed us that Iran is the obsession of Arab leaders, and these mass demonstrations are showing us that the faults of Arab leaders are the actual obsession of Arab people. Don't think, however, that the next Egyptian government -- if that's where we're heading -- is going to be friendly to Israel. And this is true even if it is not a Muslim Brotherhood government.


1:49 p.m. EST /
8:49 p.m. Cairo  Posted to Twitter by user ollywainwright with the note "from my friend in Cairo," this stunning photo appears to show protesters on the 6th October Bridge breaking for afternoon prayers. While riot police appear to largely be respecting the ad hoc ceasefires that took place during times of prayer throughout the day, a firehose blasts the praying men.

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1:41 p.m. EST / 8:41 p.m. Cairo  With the Egyptian government taking the incredible and unprecedented step of shutting down all Internet access in the country, Andrew Blum considers on TheAtlantic.com whether we might have too much faith in the Internet "cloud" as a free and open space. He looks into two recent deals by Verizon and Google that put greater corporate control over key physical junctions in global connectivity.

On a day when a government to 80,000,000 managed to find the Internet's "kill switch," it's worth remembering that the Internet is a physical network. It matters who controls the nodes. With these two deals, Google and Verizon may have chipped away at the foundation walls of an open, competitive--and therefore free--Internet.

1:32 p.m. EST / 8:32 p.m. Cairo  Despite a curfew and the presence of military troops, the Associated Press reports that protesters in Cairo are attempting to storm the state TV studio and the foreign ministry building. Earlier today, protesters set the headquarters of the National Democratic Party, Mubarak's political party, on fire. The NDP building is reportedly still on fire.

1:26 p.m. EST / 8:26 p.m. Cairo  CNN reports that some of the "most senior" officials in the Egyptian military are visiting the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Egypt's military is both a powerful and popular institution. As the military intervenes in Cairo, Suez, and Alexandria, it it set to play a significant role in how Egypt progresses politically. As the Century Foundation's Michael Wahid Hanna noted, the Egyptian military may be more apt to listen to the U.S. than has been the country's civilian leadership.

US messaging and position, public and private, do matter a great deal and will figure in calculations by military. #25jan #egyptless than a minute ago via web


1:19 p.m. EST / 8:19 p.m. Cairo  In an illustration of both Al Jazeera's growing role in channeling Arab concerns and of how difficult the U.S. position in Egypt has become, former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Frank Wisner just endured an extremely contentious interview with the network's English-language anchor. The Al Jazeera anchor openly accused the U.S. government of hypocrisy in offering qualified support to Mubarak but not, for example, to Côte d'Ivoire President Laurent Gbagbo. The New York Times' Robert F. Worth and David Kirkpatrick recently wrote of Al Jazeera's "galvanizing" role:

In many ways, it is Al Jazeera's moment -- not only because of the role it has played, but also because the channel has helped to shape a narrative of popular rage against oppressive American-backed Arab governments (and against Israel) ever since its founding 15 years ago. That narrative has long been implicit in the channel's heavy emphasis on Arab suffering and political crisis, its screaming-match talk shows, even its sensational news banners and swelling orchestral accompaniments.

1:12 p.m. EST / 8:12 p.m. Cairo  Now that the military is intervening, what role will they play? Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations wrote earlier today for the New York Times:

Observers should keep their eyes on two potentially critical actors in this crisis -- Mohamed ElBaradei and the military. ... By its actions in Suez, the military seems willing to be the ultimate guarantors of the regime.

1:05 p.m. EST / 8:05 p.m. Cairo  Al Jazeera English reports that military vehicles are rolling into Suez, where protesters are "welcoming" them.


12:53 p.m. EST / 7:53 p.m. Cairo  The protests that began on January 25 are still growing, with the largest demonstrations reported in Cairo, Suez, and Alexandria. Egypt's notorious riot police are still battling with protesters for control of the streets. The U.S., the single largest benefactor of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, is struggling to balance loyalty to Mubarak, a close ally, with a desire to aid or at least not alienate the pro-democracy protesters.

The Atlantic's coverage of the events so far in Egypt have included scenes from the Jan. 25 protest when police briefly stood down, the maybe-impossible dilemma for Obama on Egypt, an English translation of Egyptian protesters' action plan, and much more. Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish is also covering events live. Check back regularly.

Photo at top by Marco Longari/AFP/Getty

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/01/liveblogging-egypt-day-1/70417/