"The Day Of Departure": Calm But Determined

by Chris Bodenner

Earlier Dish coverage here. The most recent political developments via the Guardian:

5.10pm: Very interesting news being reported on Reuters that Mohamed ElBaradei has said he will not run for president. It comes via an Austrian newspaper (ElBaradei was living in Vienna before he returned for the protests).

5.47pm: In an interview with al-Jazeera Arabic, Mohamed ElBaradei has apparently denied telling an Austrian newspaper that he would not stand for president (5.10pm).


Al Arabiya is reporting that Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq says it is unlikely President Hosni Mubarak will hand presidential powers to his newly appointed vice president, Omar Suleiman.

Also from Reuters:

Egypt's vice president will meet a group of prominent independent figures on Saturday promoting a solution to the country's crisis in which he would assume the president's powers for an interim period, one of the group said.

Tahrir Square, where an estimated 100,000 people assembled, was relatively free of violence today. An indicative scene:

The Guardian's Mustafa Khalili is stationed beside Tahrir Square, amid 2,000-3,000 anti-Mubarak protesters who are facing off against some 50 pro-Mubarak demonstrators. He says there is a mere five metres between the groups, but as yet there has been no violence, just chanting from both sides. Mustafa reports, however, that at the back of the anti-Mubarak group are 300-400 protesters armed with stones.

Protesters were hardly confined to the capital:

1230 GMT: Al Jazeera English's correspondent is estimating "a million" on the streets of Alexandria. He says that it is "really peaceful", despite some Al Jazeera footage of scuffles. Al Jazeera reports 250,000 protesting in El Arish in the Sinai.

1255 GMT: More than 100,000 protesters in Damanhour, 100 miles northwest of Cairo, are reportedly marching to demand the immediate departure of President Mubarak. It is now reporting 500,000 protesting in Mansoura in northeastern Egypt. About 20,000 are reported to be on the streets in Aswan in southern Egypt.

Al Jazeera has more on the vibe in Cairo:

11:28am: Protester Aida El-Kashes, on the phone from Tahrir Square, describes the situation there as calm and safe. ... The thousands of protesters who have been through the past days violence together now have bounds to each other "as a big family", she says..

6:53pm Al Jazeera's reporter says that pro-democracy protesters have set up several layers of barricades between themselves and the Mubarak-loyalists. They are apparently using a code, which involves banging on the metal barricades, when they notice trouble heading their way - others then gather and form a human cordon behind the barricade.

 The Guardian has great pictures of protesters putting on makeshift helmets during yesterday's clashes. Cardboard, buckets and plastic soda bottles were used to deflect the stones.

The WaPo provides a great series of photos. EA:

1600 GMT: There have been reports that there was a Coptic Christian mass and prayer held in Tahrir Square today for Christian Egyptians. Christians make up 10% of the country's protests and thousands of Christians have taken part along with the majority Muslim population in anti-Mubarak protests.


1.10pm: ... [T]he Catholic cardinal in Egypt reportedly linked hands with a Muslim cleric. Al-Jazeera English now reports that Christians in Alexandria formed a security cordon around the Muslims while they knelt for Friday prayers.


1405 GMT: Al Jazeera English just humiliated Egyptian State TV by showing its footage and translating the broadcast: the state outlet, over shots of a few dozen people gently strolling on a bridge across the Nile, says "10,000" supporters of the Government demonstrated today after Friday Prayer, while opposition protests never materialised. The anchorwoman explains, "We are here to correct the false information reported by foreign media."

Of course, Al Jazeera English juxtaposes this next to a shot of the mass gathering in Tahrir Square in Cairo.


Al-Jazeera's offices in Cairo were stormed and torched and its Website hacked Friday, says the Pan-Arab broadcaster, while the top U.N. human rights official complained that media covering Egyptian pro-democracy protests are being arrested "in a blatant attempt to stifle news."


6.05pm: Some sad news. Al Ahram journalist Ahmed Mahmoud who was shot during protests on January 29 has reportedly died.

12.35pm: I've just spoken to Peter Beaumont, whose efforts to get into Tahrir Square have been frustrated by both the army and armed vigilantes. He and Jack Shenker were picked up by the army, made to kneel facing a wall and interrogated. They then had to deal with machete-wielding vigilantes. Although the square itself is calm, he says, things around the periphery are very different.


1050 GMT: Australian television reporter Hamish Macdonald sends the message, "Just got detained by military behind Egypt TV building. Captives there cable tied and being tasered. Not clear if the captive demonstrators were pro or anti mubarek. tasers were loud and fast. screams were horrific."


As The Lede reported, witnesses in Cairo said Egyptian military police officers had detained and beaten [as many as 30] human rights advocates after raiding their offices on Thursday. My colleague David Goodman reports that the rights advocates are still missing.