Demonstrators Gather in Central Cairo – NYT
Protesters fled a volley tear gas in Tahrir Square on Saturday. More Photos »
By KAREEM FAHIM and ETHAN BRONNER
CAIRO — Civil revolt continued for a fifth day in Egypt on Saturday following a night of violent clashes and a presidential vow of reform as several hundred antigovernment demonstrators gathered in central Cairo in the morning and police rifle shots could be heard ricocheting off the walls of nearby buildings.
Mubarak Orders Crackdown, With Revolt Sweeping Egypt (January 29, 2011)
The shots, fired near demonstrators who had gathered on side streets leading to Cairo’s main Tahrir Square, may not have been live, according to Reuters, but sent the demonstrators scurrying.
Egypt’s government was expected to submit its resignation later in the morning and a new government likely to be formed quickly, the cabinet spokesman said, Reuters reported. President Hosni Mubarak had asked his government to resign in a late-night speech.
“The president will announce who will be the next prime minister,” Magdy Radi, the spokesman, told Reuters. “What I understand from the president is that the government should be formed very fast today.”
With the army called out to the streets for the first time in a generation, and the main party headquarters along with police stations in flames, there seemed no early end in sight to the conflict between tens of thousands of ordinary Egyptians and their government.
The army took up positions throughout Cairo on Saturday in tanks and troop carriers that guarded the Egyptian Museum, the Central Bank and Cairo University. Citizens gathered in groups around the sites of Friday’s battles and confrontations, including around a burned police station and the torched carcasses of dozens of police cars.
In the northern city of Alexandria, the correspondent for Al Jazeera Television reported seeing at least 20 bodies following the overnight clashes with security troops there.
Cell phone service, cut off by the government on Friday, was partially restored although other elements of the communication shut down remained in force. On Friday, with much of the nation in open revolt, Mr. Mubarak deployed the nation’s military and imposed a near-total blackout on communications to save his authoritarian government of nearly 30 years.
In the early hours of Saturday, protesters continued to defy a nationwide curfew as Mr. Mubarak, 82, breaking days of silence, appeared on national television, promising to replace the ministers in his government, but calling popular protests “part of bigger plot to shake the stability” of Egypt. He refused calls, shouted by huge, angry crowds on Friday in the central squares of Cairo, the northern port of Alexandria and the canal city of Suez, for him to resign.
“I will not shy away from taking any decision that maintains the security of every Egyptian,” he vowed.
Whether his infamously efficient security apparatus and well-financed but politicized military could enforce that order — and whether it would stay loyal to him even if it came to shedding blood — was the main question for many Egyptians.
It was also a pressing concern for the White House, where President Obama called Mr. Mubarak and then, in his own Friday television appearance, urged him to take “concrete steps” toward the political and economic reform that the stalwart American ally had repeatedly failed to deliver.
Whatever the fallout from the protests — be it change that comes suddenly or unfolds over years — the upheaval at the heart of the Arab world has vast repercussions for the status quo in the region, including tolerance for secular dictators by a new generation of frustrated youth, the viability of opposition that had been kept mute or locked up for years and the orientation of regional governments toward the United States and Israel, which had long counted Egypt as its most important friend in the region.
Many regional experts were still predicting that the wily Mr. Mubarak, who has outmaneuvered domestic political rivals and Egypt’s Islamic movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, for decades, would find a way to suppress dissent and restore control. But the apparently spontaneous, nonideological and youthful protesters also posed a new kind of challenge to a state security system focused on more traditional threats from organized religious groups and terrorists.
Friday’s protests were the largest and most diverse yet, including young and old, women with Louis Vuitton bags and men in galabeyas, factory workers and film stars. All came surging out of mosques after midday prayers headed for Tahrir Square, and their clashes with the police left clouds of tear gas wafting through empty streets.