Egypt news day 10: Army steps in; journalists arrested and more live updates
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Anti-government protesters and regime supporters clashed throughout Thursday, with more rock-throwing battles and attacks on reporters, foreigners and rights workers.
Jon Snow with Britain's Channel 4 News posted this report from the clashes earlier Thursday:
In Tahrir Square, the pro-democratic supporters seemed to have a tenuous control of the space and were settling in for the night, using power from the lampposts to charge their cell phones, Democracy Now! reporter Sharif Koudoous wrote on Twitter. The protesters seem to be preparing for a big day on Friday:
A moment of tension. ppl whistle to warn thugs are coming. Everyone rushes to protect entrances. They prepare for an attack but none comes
We'll end our posting here, but we'll be back to update you on new developments. Thanks for being with us.
In 2008, a Post photographer captured Egypt in all its panoramic beauty, including Tahrir Square, where "roads leading to all parts of Cairo converge." Check out what the bustling city looked like two years ago.
The Post's technology writer, Cecilia Kang, looked at how Facebook, unlike Google and Twitter, has refrained from taking an overtly political stance in Egypt, despite it being a key instrument in organizing the uprising:
Facebook, which celebrates its seventh birthday Friday and has more than a half-billion users worldwide, is not eagerly embracing its role as the insurrectionists' instrument of choice. Its strategy contrasts with rivals Google and Twitter, which actively helped opposition leaders communicate after the Egyptian government shut down Internet access.
The Silicon Valley giant, whether it likes it or not, has been thrust like never before into a sensitive global political moment that pits the company's need for an open Internet against concerns that autocratic regimes could limit use of the site or shut it down altogether.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke about Egypt, saying "the government must demonstrate its willingness to ensure journalists's ability to report these events."
Earlier this morning, we reported on Egyptian blogger Sandmonkey's arrest. He has since been released and sent out these messages on Twitter:
I am ok. I got out. I was ambushed & beaten by the police, my phone confiscated , my car ripped apar& supplies taken #jan25
will tell the story later . Thank you all. I just need to rest now. #jan25
Fox News correspondent Greg Palkot and cameraman Olaf Wiig were hospitalized in Cairo, the news station reports, after they were severely beaten by pro-Mubarak supporters on Wednesday. They were released Thursday. Here's their report:
Hosni Mubarak sat down with ABC News's Christiane Amanpour and told her that he would like to leave office, but he cannot for fears that the country would fall into chaos. He also told her that when he spoke to President Obama he told Obama, "you don't understand the Egyptian culture and what would happen if I step down now."
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley called the roundup and detention of reporters and activists in Egypt on Thursday a "concerted effort" to disrupt international media coverage of the mass protests as officials brace for an escalation of demonstrators on Friday.
In a media briefing in Washington this afternoon, Crowley told reporters that his office has lodged complaints with the Egyptian government and asked for a full investigation into the arrests and beatings of journalists and activists over the past two days.
"We want the journalists released and do not want to see this continue," he said. "I don't think these are random events. It appears to be an effort to disrupt the ability of journalists to cover today's events. It could be in anticipation of events tomorrow, when we are bracing for a significant increase in the number of demonstrations in the streets ... and the real prospect of confrontation" with police and military personnel.
Crowley said that one flight carrying about 50 Americans left Egypt safely Thursday but a second flight did not depart. He did not explain why the second flight was canceled.
"You're dealing with something unprecedented," Crowley said. "Someone in a meeting said this week we're moving into the unknown. This is a very, very difficult and complex process."
The joint venture Speak2Tweet created by Google, Twitter, and SayNow subverted the Internet ban in Egypt by allowing people to call a number and leave a voicemail message that would be tweeted out to the world.
The messages have been left by a variety of people from around the world, and a group of people on Twitter decided to crowd-source translations so those tweets could be read in Arabic, Spanish, English and French. The project, Alive in Egypt, has been translating messages for the past few days. The catalogue of messages provides an inside look into the frustrations and hopes of the protesters and their supporters around the world. Here's a sampling:
A call to all the young in Egypt, to all the jobless, to all those who work hard for their daily bread: you ought to get out there and join the protesters and help bring down this tyrant along with his gangs, those powerful men who have sacked the people's money and the state's assets and have cut short the great potentials of Egypt's young. You ought to stand by your brothers...Go out there! Go! Go and protest... And fear not! He is about to fall! The regime is about to fall! No doubt about it! The regime is falling apart and those who maintained it are trying to get away along with their share of the looting... So go out there and stand by your brothers. Do not fear!
Peace be upon you, this is Moataz BilAllah Alji again, please tell the women to get aluminum pan covers and lids so that the guys use them to protect themselves by covering their heads. I swear to God we don't sleep thinking of you praying for victory. One more thing, guys stay in groups, groups of 50 or any number and stand in circles so that you can protect yourselves better. God be with you.
Egypt, may God bless you and we all are praying for you. Yes, Egypt, we're all praying for you. From San Diego, California - Nassar and Elder. Shalom! Saalam!
Before Post photographer Linda Davidson was taken into custody Thursday morning, she filed devastating images of Wednesday's clashes between the anti-Mubarak demonstrators and government loyalists. See the full gallery of the violent clashes here.
Another update from the Post's foreign editor, Douglas Jehl:
Leila Fadel just called to say that she and Linda Davidson had been released. She says they were separated from Sufian Taha, their translator and a longtime Washington Post employee, and Mansour el-Sayed Mohammed Abo Gouda, their Egyptian driver. She has no further information about the whereabouts of the two men, and it is believed that they are still in custody.
An update from the Post's foreign editor, Douglas Jehl:
Based on reports from witnesses, we now understand that Leila Fadel and Linda Davidson of the Washington Post were in the custody of the military police in Cairo as of 3 p.m. EET (8 a.m. EST). Early reports that they were in the custody of the interior ministry appear to have been incorrect.
As scenes of violence were beamed out of Egypt, protests flared in other Middle East and African nations, with an estimated 20,000 taking to the streets in Yemen and demonstrators facing off against riot police in Zimbabwe.
Al Jazeera reported that organizers on social media networks, including Facebook, have called for pro-democracy rallies in the Syrian capital of Damascus this weekend, as well as at Syrian embassies in several countries, including the United States. Al Jazeera also reports that Algeria may lift its 19-year state of emergency in a bid to stave off protests.
Bowing to the pressure in nearby countries, Jordan's King Abdullah II this week dismissed Prime Minister Samir Rifai and his cabinet on Tuesday and ordered a new premier to carry out speedy political reforms.
When asked whether the office has protested the detention of journalists to the Egyptian government, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in an email: "We have expressed our grave concerns with government officials in the Foreign Ministry and the embassy here in Washington. We are in touch with the military as well."
In addition to journalists, human rights workers also were being rounded up, including Daniel Williams, a researcher for Human Rights Watch. The organization said that its law center in Cairo was raided by police and military personnel and several monitors were interrogated before being driven off to an undisclosed location.
Williams, a former journalist who worked for the Washington Post and several other publications, recently wrote about the protests in Tunisia for Global Post, an online foreign news publication.
"Egyptian authorities should immediately and safely release our colleague and the other human rights monitors detained today," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "The authorities should immediately halt the arrest and harassment of independent witnesses to the orchestrated attacks on peaceful demonstrators in Egypt."
Al Jazeera links to footage on YouTube that seems to show a police truck racing through a crowded street and running over protesters. Warning: the footage is graphic.
(Please note: this incorrectly called the vehicle an army vehicle. Al Jazeera states it is a police vehicle. There is an important distinction between the two as most protesters have complained that the police have been behind the violence.)
Newly appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman went on Egyptian state television to deny any government role in Wednesday's violence. He said the protests have been fueled by foreigners, the Muslim Brotherhood, and businessmen. He also said that he has invited the Muslim Brotherhood to speak and elections would be held in August or September.
Earlier on Thursday, Ahmed Shafiq, the new Egyptian prime minister, went on state television and pushed back against President Obama's Tuesday statement that a transition to a representative government "must begin now." According to Dubai-based news channel Al Arabiya, Shafiq said:
'Now' should not be given as an order to Egypt. President Mubarak should leave the presidency in an honorable way. He is leaving anyway within the coming few months, so there is no means for the 'now' orders.
The Committee to Protect Journalists has received nearly 50 reports Thursday of journalists being detained or beaten, said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, program coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa. He said reporters from various countries, including a BBC television correspondent and reporters from Spain, Sweden and Italy, are among those who have been rounded up or assaulted. He said there was a report of "thugs" breaking into a Hilton hotel -- where many journalists were staying -- to round up reporters.
"Things are about as out-of-control as they can get," Abdel Dayem said. The number of reporters who have been detained or beaten is "definitely in the dozens. Egypt TV is accusing a number of people, basically all foreigners on the street, to be Israeli spies. So you can do the math. Dozens have been arrested, beaten on the street, their equiptment confiscated and broken and their credentials burned."
Read the full story on the arrests of journalists.
It is believed that Sufian Taha, a translator, was with Leila Fadel, our Cairo bureau chief, and Linda Davidson, a photographer, when they were detained. It is believed that Taha has also been detained.
Days after embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced he would not seek reelection, his son and once presumed successor, Gamal Mubarak, also appears unlikely to be a candidate, state television reported Thursday.
According to multiple news reports, Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that the younger Mubarak, 47, will not pursue the presidency in the next elections, another concession to anti-government protesters in the increasingly violent standoff. Gamal Mubarak has reportedly fled to London, where he owns a home.
Gamal Mubarak, the younger of Hosni's two sons, has been groomed as his father's successor for years, much to the chagrin of many Egyptians.
Al Jazeera just posted two videos on the continuing battle at Tahrir Square:
From our foreign editor Douglas Jehl:
We have heard from multiple witnesses that Leila Fadel, our Cairo bureau chief, and Linda Davidson, a photographer, were among two dozen journalists arrested this morning by the Egyptian Interior Ministry. We understand that they are safe but in custody and we have made urgent protests to Egyptian authorities in Cairo and Washington. We've advised the state department as well.
At least five people died in last night's clash. Here's the report from Cairo from Leila Fadel and Will Englund. Read the full story on the clashes in Cairo.
Protest organizers said Mubarak loyalists opened fire on demonstrators before dawn. Sporadic clashes continued through the morning, though for the most part the pro- and anti-government groups kept their distance from each other, often on opposite sides of a line of military vehicles or personnel.
Refusing government requests for them to end their 10-day old demonstration, protesters set up makeshift hospitals in alleyways off the square to treat the wounded, and fashioned a holding cell in a nearby travel office to detain those they suspected of inciting the violence.
Organizers said they had captured more than 350 "thugs of the government" among the pro-government demonstrators, some carrying police identification cards, and turned them over to the Egyptian army.
"Mubarak told them to kill us," said Osama Hilal, 27, a doctor who was treating the wounded at a makeshift triage center. "He thinks he can succeed to make all the people get out of this square. But we will not leave."
"We pray... that a better day will dawn over Egypt," President Obama said at the National Prayer breakfast in Washington. "We pray that the violence in egypt will End and that the rights of the people will be realized."
On Wednesday, a number of journalists, including our correspondents, were attacked by angry pro-Mubarak supporters in Tahrir Square. A number of foreign reporters were injured, and Al-Arabiya TV correspondent Ahmed Abdullah was severely beaten. "Mubarak thugs targeted journalists, to keep us from covering his crackdown," Nick Kristof, a New York Times columnist, wrote on Twitter Wednesday night. "Hmph. Makes us all the more determined."
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley acknowledged on Twitter about a half hour ago that this was an intimidation campaign to scare journalists:
There is a concerted campaign to intimidate international journalists in #Cairo and interfere with their reporting. We condemn such actions.
Now, there are reports Thursday that Egyptian journalists and human right workers are being arrested. The popular Egyptian blogger who goes by the name "Sandmonkey" has been reported missing by his friends after he left for Tahrir Square with medical supplies to help the injured. Al Jazeera reports that security forces have arrested two people at an Egyptian human rights group.
Hadeel Al Shalchi, a correspondent for the Associated Press wrote on Twitter that the military is taking journalists into "protective custody."
Throughout the Egyptian protests, a key weapon wielded by Hosni Mubarak has been the power over the communication networks in his country. He's managed to shut down the country's Internet access and the phone system. Now, it turns out the government is also using the technology to spread its message. Vodafone released a statement that the government had conscripted its technology to send out text messages by the government. On Twitter, people have complained of receiving text messages that carry patriotic messages and attack "traitors," the Associated Press reports, since the beginning of the unrest last week. Vodafone's statement reads:
Under the emergency powers provisions of the Telecoms Act, the Egyptian authorities can instruct the mobile networks of Mobinil, Etisalat and Vodafone to send messages to the people of Egypt. They have used this since the start of the protests. These messages are not scripted by any of the mobile network operators and we do not have the ability to respond to the authorities on their content. Vodafone Group has protested to the authorities that the current situation regarding these messages is unacceptable. We have made clear that all messages should be transparent and clearly attributable to the originator.
Melissa Bell and David Nakamura
| February 3, 2011; 3:02 PM ET
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