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.
12:33 p.m. EST / 7:33 p.m. Cairo Based on these reports from Reuters' Alastair Sharp, the U.S. may be looking to the Egyptian military to intervene in Cairo. Al Jazeera reports that soldiers are giving "a very strong warning" for all protesters to "go inside and take cover." If the military is finally stepping in, it's not clear whether dispersing the protesters could vouchsafe Mubarak's hold on power, or if the military is planning to itself move against the government.
Pentagon says top U.S. General Mullen expressed confidence in #Egypt military ability to provide security internally and in Suez Canal area
12:21 p.m. EST / 7:21 p.m. Cairo Protesters in Tahrir Square have begun collecting food and finding shelter within the square in what one Al Jazeera correspondent called "a siege mentality." With government forces now blocking most or all exits (a single exit was at one point open behind a mosque on the square, it's not clear if it still is), protesters expect to be stuck in the square overnight. Resources, however, are scarce, and there are many injured. Volunteers have organized a sort of makeshift hospital in the square, where one doctor estimated 1,500 injured people. Emergency vehicles have not been permitted into the square. Though the government forces have eased their assault, what began as a day of violence risks ending in humanitarian crisis.
So many bloodied faces pouring out of this battle. Just saw v young maybe 8yr? old boy unconscious being carried on man's back #Egypt
12:09 p.m. EST / 7:09 p.m. Cairo An eyewitness tells Al Arabiya that the military has begun to separate pro-government forces and protesters clashing with one another. It's unclear if this is an isolated incident or part of a larger military intervention. The military has so far stood by passively during the crackdown.
11:56 a.m. EST / 6:56 p.m. Cairo National Journal has published a very handy interactive graphic detailing the monarchies and republicans (such as they are) of the Middle East and North Africa. National Journal describes the current situation in those countries and the stability of their regimes.
11:48 a.m. EST / 6:48 p.m. Cairo The clashes in Cairo's Tahrir Square are becoming increasingly violent. A protester on the phone with Al Jazeera describes "hundreds" of injured around her, "many" of them unconscious. This photo appears to show a molotov cocktail being thrown at a tank in the square. Violence against the military risks forcing them to intervene in the fighting; whichever side the military takes, their involvement could dramatically increase the number of casualties in Cairo. Below that are reports from two reporters in the square.
Journalists targeted 2day. My camera broken. Heard CNN camera broken as well #jan25
11:18 a.m. EST / 6:18 p.m. Cairo Independent Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm reports that the Egyptian government is formally rejecting the international calls for a "transition" in government and an end to the violence in Cairo.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday expressed its rejection of European and American calls for the Egyptian government to immediately embark on a transition period.
11:08 a.m. EST / 6:08 p.m. Cairo The Egyptian military is taking its first proactive stance since violent clashes began in Cairo, acting to put out fires that have spread in Tahrir Square from molotov cocktails thrown by government forces from nearby rooftops, reports Al Jazeera Arabic.
10:50 a.m. EST / 5:50 p.m. Cairo The White House has issued a statement condemning the violence in Egypt.
The United States deplores and condemns the violence that is taking place in Egypt, and we are deeply concerned about attacks on the media and peaceful demonstrators. We repeat our strong call for restraint.
10:49 a.m. EST / 5:49 p.m. Cairo This photo, taken earlier today by Al Jazeera's Evan Hill, shows camel-riding pro-government forces pushing through a crowd of frightened protesters. Video from CNN is below.
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10:45 a.m. EST / 5:45 p.m. Cairo Cairo's protesters, long wary of U.S. interference, are now pleading for the U.S. to step in and intervene, CNN's Ben Wedeman reports.
10:43 a.m. EST / 5:43 p.m. Cairo Al Jazeera English is showing footage of pro-government forces throwing molotov cocktails from rooftops down at the protesters below. This appears to be the harshest act of regime violence since riot police used live fire on Saturday.
10:39 a.m. EST / 5:39 p.m. Cairo UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said that if there is to be a "transition" in Egypt's government it should happen "now." He strongly condemned the violence and urged reform throughout Arab governments.
10:38 a.m. EST / 5:38 p.m. Cairo The numbers of government forces throwing heavy debris from rooftops have increased dramatically throughout the past hour.
10:30 a.m. EST / 5:30 p.m. Cairo A protester named Ali Seif has reportedly recovered a lost child amid the chaos in Cairo's Tahrir Square, where there are currently no medical services. Many exits from the square are blocked. Seif plans to pose as a pro-government figure to try and sneak the child out of the increasingly violent square.
:'( omg I have someones child, I have a child. 2 yrs max, green eyes, says his name mahmoud. Tweet it for me
Rushdi says fake I'm pro mubarak, and leave this way. Ppl families in Tahrir, the men will die there, please. Im heading throguh omar makram
He doesn't know his patensts naems, he's 2 yrs max. Sarah has ggirl and rushdi calling ppl to come our way to omar makram
10:19 a.m. EST / 5:19 p.m. Cairo Opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei has called on the Egyptian military to intervene and stop the street battles overtaking Cairo. Many civilian protesters, and perhaps the U.S. government, will be looking to the military to step in if violence continues. The Guardian's Brian Whitaker explains the Egyptian military's likely reason for refusing to intervene.
The role of an army is to protect the state, not the regime or the revolution. Anything else is an interference in the sovereignty of the people.
10:10 a.m. EST / 5:10 p.m. Cairo Democracy Now's Sharif Kouddous reports that government forces are actively seeking out journalists, especially from Al Jazeera, which has been officially banned from broadcasting from Egypt.
We had to disassemble our cameras and hide them in our bags to walk around these thugs. They are attacking journalists, cursing Al Jazeera.
10:05 a.m. EST / 5:05 p.m. Cairo This photo shows government forces throwing debris from the top of a building on Tahrir Square. They have so far thrown rocks, furniture, and other heavy wooden, concrete and metal objects into the civilian crown 10 or 11 floors below.
10:01 a.m. EST / 5:01 p.m. Cairo Both UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron have condemned the Egyptian government's actions.
9:57 a.m. EST / 4:57 p.m. Cairo Government forces are now throwing rocks and other heavy objects from nearby rooftops and windows, which are as high as 11 flights up. Some of the forces are using tear gas against protesters. They have so far pushed the protesters back by about 100 yards. The New York Times' Nick Kristof reports from Cairo, "Hard to know casualties, but they're adding up."
9:52 a.m. EST / 4:52 p.m. Cairo The U.S. has so far not publicly responded to the violence in Egypt. But BBC's Kim Ghattas reports this peek into the U.S. thinking. Officials appear, perhaps understandably, to be scrambling to respond to the still-uncertain situation.
9:45 a.m. EST / 4:45 p.m. Cairo A representative from Human Rights Watch in Tahrir Square tells Al Jazeera he believes that the Egyptian military has "in word and deed" shown that they want the anti-Mubarak protests to end and the protesters to go home. He sees the military's refusal to move against the government forces as an indication that they are willing to let those forces clear the square, even if violently.
9:33 a.m. EST / 4:33 p.m. Cairo At least one molotov cocktail (a homemade explosive) has been thrown in Cairo, according to U.K. Channel Four reporter Jonathan Rugman. This from Al Jazeera's Dan Nolan:
Guys in front of me poundin on pavement to break it into sizes they can throw. Others carry sheets of metal like rudimentary bucket to carry
9:29 a.m. EST / 4:29 p.m. Cairo Anti-Mubarak protesters and government forces are waging pitched battles in the streets, hurling stones and debris at one another. Some government forces also carry sticks and batons, with unconfirmed reports of some wielding machetes. Here is one scene from Cairo:
9:21 a.m. EST / 4:21 p.m. Cairo A woman on the phone with Al Jazeera English from Tahrir Square, where she is one of the protesters, warns that many people are trying to flee the violence but are unable because some exits have been blocked. The woman left the call hysterical, panicking, and absolutely terrified.
9:18 a.m. EST / 4:18 p.m. Cairo Clashes between pro-government forces and civilian protesters are turning increasingly violent, with what can only be described as battle lines forming in the streets. More photos here.
9:05 a.m. EST / 4:05 p.m. Cairo Pro-Mubarak forces have forcibly seized military vehicles and are attempting to use them against the civilian protesters. Gunshots are clearly audible in the background of Al Jazeera's broadcast. McClatchy's Shashank Bengali also reports gunshots in Cairo.
8:59 a.m. EST / 3:59 p.m. Cairo Graeme Wood, contributing editor to The Atlantic, reports on Twitter from Tahrir Square, "Beaten (lightly), had camera stolen by secret police at Egyptian Museum." He had posting photos from the clash; view them here.
8:50 a.m. EST / 3:50 p.m. Cairo Internet traffic appears to have been largely restored to Egypt as of about 5 a.m. EST or noon Cairo time.
8:50 a.m. EST / 3:50 p.m. Cairo Pro-government forces have begun attacking journalists in Cairo's Tahrir Square. A reported for Al Arabiya has reportedly been stabbed. Al Jazeera English correspondent Gregg Carlstrom says they are actively seeking out Al Jazeera journalists. He reports, "two camera crews (neither from our channel) chased by mobs yelling 'Al Jazeera! Al Jazeera!'"
8:35 a.m. EST / 3:35 p.m. Cairo It appears that Mubarak's crackdown has begun. The protesters so far vastly outnumber the pro-Mubarak forces -- posing as civilians but widely considered to be internal security forces -- but the violence threatens to dissipate or splinter the opposition. This raises two important questions: will the military intervene and how will the U.S. respond? Though generally supportive of protesters, the military has so far stood down, watching passively. Though the military certainly has the ability to stop the pro-Mubarak forces, using violence against government security forces would be an incredible step. As for Obama, both his speech last night and his phone call to Mubarak explicitly urged the Egyptian president against this crackdown. The real risk for Mubarak may be neither the military not the Obama administration but news-watching people around the world. This is not Mubarak's first violent crackdown, but it is to play out on live television, in real time.
8:24 a.m. EST / 3:24 p.m. Cairo The pro-Mubarak demonstrators are widely believed to in fact be plain-clothed police officers, who have plagued the protesters for days, and hired by the government. Al Jazeera Arabic reports some pro-government demonstrators have been found with police ID cards; others have reportedly fired tear gas canisters, which the military does not possess. Foreign Policy's Blake Hounshell explains this is an old Mubarak trick; National Journal's Marc Ambinder says the Obama administration believes the pro-government demonstrators are "intelligence-security" forces in plain clothes.
This is not, by the way, the first time the Mubarak regime has used this tactic. But it's the first time the world has watched in real time.
USG sees the contrived counter-protests as coming from Mubarak's intelligence-security establishment, desperate to pacify by gore.
8:16 a.m. EST / 3:16 p.m. Cairo Tens of thousands of pro-Mubarak demonstrators have reached Cairo's Tahrir Square, the heart of the protest movement, quickly bringing violence into the long-peaceful square. Both sides have begun hurling rocks at one another. Gregg Carlstrom reports "the atmosphere of a lynch mob" from the pro-Mubarak demonstrators, who are actively seeking anti-Mubarak protesters, journalists, and Americans. The BBC reports that some pro-government supporters are riding horses and camels.
The Atlantic's Justin Miller tells the story of Egypt's protest movement from the "Tunisian spark" through today:
Read our coverage from January 28, January 29 part one and January 29 part two, January 30, January 31, and February 1. The Daily Dish is also providing live coverage.
Photo by Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty
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