Even as the anti-government protest that started last week ceases
to end, Egyptian President Hosny Mubarak in the early hours of
Saturday ordered the existing government and ministers to step
down and promised a new leadership.
Mubarak, aged 82, who has ruled Egypt for nearly 30 years, was
making his first address to his nation since anti-government
protests erupted this week, appealing for calm and promising
reform. But protests continued in the country even as he made his
address, with some calling for the president's ouster.
"I regret the innocent victims and causalities on both sides,
citizens and police personnel," said Mubarak, after reports
indicated more than 20 people had died during the protests.
He appealed directly to the people and said he understood they
wanted him to address poverty, employment and democratic reform
and pledged progress.
Saying there was "a fine line between freedom and chaos" he urged
calm, adding that only because of his own reforms over the years,
were people able to protest.
Egypt was under curfew Friday night
as the government sought to put an end to nearly a week of
demonstrations designed to unseat it.
Thousands of protesters ignored the order, running rampant through
the street, clashing with security forces and attacking government
buildings. The curfew - initially upon the cities of Cairo, Suez
and Alexandria, but later spread across the whole country - was to
last until dawn.
Police, who had earlier been trying to control the demonstrations,
seemed to fade from the scene as the day went on, though it
remained unclear if they were following orders to do so or ceding
control the crowds.
Nonetheless, as night fell, reports streamed in that protesters
were unopposed in Tahir Square, a central gathering place in the
city, the city of Suez and in parts of North Sinai, all scenes of
sometimes fatal clashes earlier in the week.
But the situation remained confusing, with army patrols taking the
place of police in some areas. Helicopters and tanks were sighted
in Cairo and there were reports of gunfire and clashes between
police and army officers. The Al-Jazeera broadcaster showed
protesters cheering troops as they moved into Cairo.
Most attention hinged on whether President Hosny Mubarak would
give an address on national television, as had been promised
earlier in the evening.
Across Cairo, scenes of unrest were
plenty. Protesters had torched multiple police vehicles and had
stormed the foreign and information ministries. The Information
Ministry houses state-run television and radio channels.
The headquarters of Mubarak's NDP party was ablaze and being
looted. There was concern that the blaze could spread to Cairo's
nearby Egyptian Museum.
Al-Jazeera reported 870 injured during the course of the day.
Interior Ministry officials, citing government workers and
doctors, reported that between 230 and 300 injured people had been
treated in Cairo's hospitals. Two more deaths were reported,
bringing the week's toll to at least nine.
Isolated plundering in Suez was reported by the Al Arabiya
Confusion reigned throughout the day, exacerbated by the
government's decision to order all internet service providers to
cut internet access. Mobile phone service was also suspended
across the country.
Late Friday, European activist groups were trying to set up
workarounds that would allow Egyptians to access the internet
using dial-in service to foreign providers.
The curfew also interrupted air travel, as passengers were having
difficulty getting to or from the airport.
Protests had been planned to start after Friday prayers at mosques
across the country. Forewarned, Egyptian forces blocked off access
to many mosques and potential demonstration sites.
ElBaradei under house arrest
Caught up in the net was Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize
recipient and former head of the International Atomic Energy
Agency, who had returned to Cairo Thursday to help organise the
opposition. He was placed under house arrest after he was detained
in a mosque where he had gone for prayers.
He had previously offered to help form a transitional government
should Mubarak step down.
While some saw the move as a blow to the opposition, others were
less worried about ElBaradei's fate, seeing as how, after visiting
Egypt last year to gauge his chances at a presidential run, he had
only returned after the protests were already several days old.
"If I am a real leader, I would be the first to go to the streets,
but he came after three days to join protests and appear on TV to
say he is leading the charge," said an Egyptian professor who
preferred to remain anonymous.
Nonetheless, the Austrian government said Friday night that
ElBaradei must be released from his house arrest. ElBaradei is a
resident of Vienna.
Sajjid al-Badawi, the head of the liberal Wafd party gave a press
conference Friday night demanding a transitional government and
changes to the Egyptian constitution. But he also rejected any
outside interference during the conference.
UN, World leaders appeal for calm
World governments have weighed in
heavily on the ongoing violence, urging peace and calm and calling
on the Egyptian government to respect protesters' freedom of
"As a partner, we strongly believe that the Egyptian government
needs to engage immediately with the Egyptian people in
implementing needed economic, political and social reforms," US
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for calm from Davos,
"I have been calling on the authorities to see all these
situations as an opportunity to engage in addressing the
legitimate concerns and wishes of their peoples."
The protests began Tuesday, a mixture of opposition to Mubarak's
nearly 30 years of rule and his use of Emergency Laws to stifle
opposition. But it has grown into broader protests about the
economy and food prices.
Many of the protesters have taken their cues from Tunisia, where
president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali gave up power Jan 14 after a
month of protests against his 23 years in power.
This week's protests are the worst in Egypt since bread riots in