It is morning again in Cairo as I post this. The curfew ended at 8:00am and the people of Egypt enter the seventh day of their history making struggle. A famous poem by the early 20th century Tunisian poet Abu al-Qasim al-Shabi, "To the Tyrants of the World" [hear it on NPR] has become a rallying cry in both Tunisia and Egypt.
Millions of Egyptians were in violation of the government curfew again last night after a sixth day in which people have taken to the the streets to demand regime change. What started with tens of thousand of demonstrators only a few days ago in three major cities has now developed to the point where the majority of the people of Egypt from virtually all walks of life are demanding the removal of Hosni Mubarak and all his cronies from power.
This morning the Egyptian army is erecting barricades in central Cairo as the government vows to enforce the curfew which it has moved forward three hours to 3:00pm today. Today also the unions are calling for a general strike throughout Egypt and on Tuesday the April 6 Youth Movement has called for a demonstration of a million Egyptians in Cairo.
Al Jazeera reports:
Egyptian protesters have called for a massive demonstration on Tuesday in a bid to force out president Hosni Mubarak from power.
The so-called April 6 Movement said it plans to have more than a million people on the streets of the capital Cairo, as anti-government sentiment reaches a fever pitch.
Mubarak has also ordered Ahmed Shafiq, the new prime minister to preserve subsidies, control inflation and provide more jobs. "I require you to bring back confidence in our economy," Mubarak said in a letter to Shafiq, read on TV on Sunday. This is too little to late. The Egyptian people are no longer demanding that this government hear them. They have had 30 years. They are demanding that this government step down.
After Friday pray, the police stopped trying to suppress the protests and joined them, then the police were completely withdrawn from most areas and the army was sent in. The army is much loved and supported by the people, and so their presence has been welcomed, but the army is only protecting government buildings and important sites like the famous Egyptian Museum which hold thousands of priceless artifacts, including the gold mask of King Tutankhamun. Protesters had organized a human chain around the Museum to protect it from further looting before the army took it over Saturday morning. The museum had also been threaten earlier by the fire that burnt down the NDP party headquarters next door.
The 450,000 strong army has not tried to enforce the curfew and army personnel at many levels have promised they will not fire on the people if ordered. The army has not been patrolling most neighborhoods or most areas of the cities however, and with no police this has left a power vacuum. To make matters worst last night there were mass prison outbreaks and whether it was these criminals, NDP party thugs or members of Mubarak's 350,000 strong security forces, there was trouble on the streets last night. Reports of widespread looting and violence have forced the people to organize for their own security. In virtually every neighborhood last night young men organized militias to patrol their streets and stop anyone up to mischief. In at least one neighborhood when they subdued some looters, they were found to have police papers on them. These vigilantes armed themselves with knives, clubs, bats, even machetes. They set up check points on the streets and questioned everyone driving through to determine their intentions. By morning these neighborhood watch groups had ended most of the violence and looting.
Al Jazeera noted:
Naglaa Mahmoud, a Maadi resident, told the Associated Press that thugs were breaking cars and threatening to get into homes. She said even the ambulance service in the neighborhood had abandoned their offices and accused the regime of planning the chaos by pulling out all of its police forces.
"All this seems to be prearranged. They are punishing us for asking for this change," she said.
"What a shame he [Mubarak] doesn't care for the people or anything. This is a corrupt regime."
The military also urged local residents throughout the country to defend themselves from looters.
The standoff between the people and Mubarak remains however as he has refused to step down in the face of this overwhelming opposition. He named Omar Suleiman, his intelligence chief, the first vice-president Egypt has known in 30 years. Earlier he sacked his cabinet and he is now promising a long list or reforms. None of this is likely to quell the protests or satisfy the people who aren't afraid any more and are demanding nothing less than the removal of Mubarak.
Yesterday the government attempted to shutdown all Internet access. Due to the existence of satellite up-links and satellite phones, this can never be completely successful. And while they were able to bring the level of tweets from Egypt down to a trickle, they brought even more people out on to the streets since without Internet, they had nothing to do. Mubarak also ordered cell phone carriers to stop all service and in a very desperate move today he first halted Al Jazeera's live broadcasts from Egypt and then banned the Arab news organization from Egypt.
Nobel Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, the former UN nuclear watchdog, return to Egypt and has joined the protest. He says he is ready to "lead the transition" if asked. While both the Muslim Brotherhood and the April 6 Youth Movement have expressed support for him, many ordinary Egyptians see him as an outsider returning late to the struggle. While they strongly welcome him, they do not see him as the leader of their movement.
Activists responded to the Internet shut down with a fax based information campaign organized by the hacker group Anonymous. Anonymous activists are also working with a French ISP to provide people in Egypt with free dial-up access. Older activists from the '60's and '70's have also come forward to show the young people how it was done before they had Facebook and Twitter.
While the spirit and moral of the people remains high in this unprecedented popular uprising against 30 years of dictatorship, there were some ominous signs of the government's intentions. For most of the day the crowds in Tahrir Square in the middle of Cairo were buzzed by low flying air force jets and helicopters. While most believe that the army will not fire on people, the air force is where Mubarak made his bones as an officer.
Many governments, including the U.S. are recommending that foreign nationals leave Egypt. The U.S. is also preparing to send Marines to Egypt, ostensibly on a rescue mission. WL Central also learned last night of a US army contingent of 1500 at Ft. Benning, GA, USA that are being prepared for duty in Egypt.
According to Military News:'
The unit will provide an on-demand aviation asset to the Multinational Force and Observers commander to support its mission of supervising the security provisions of the Egypt/ Israel Peace Treaty.
Some fear that mission could be extended to protect the status quo. Earlier today US Secretary of State spoke about Mubarak and the situation in Egypt. She told Fox News:
"For 30 years, the United States, Republican and Democratic administrations, have been urging Mubarak to take certain steps. In fact, we have been urging that a vice president be appointed for decades, and that finally has happened, but there's a long way to go."
Yes, at that rate any significant change will take several centuries. The United States government may be willing to wait that long. Clearly the Egyptian people are not.