Region | Egypt

US says time for change has come in Egypt

Dozens left bleeding after opposing sides attack each other with stones, sticks

  • Gulf News Report
  • live coveragePublished: 17:15 February 8, 2011

Egyptian demonstrators
  • Image Credit: AFP
  • Egyptian demonstrators continue to demand the ouster of Egyptian President Hosmi Mubarak. Mubarak said on Tuesday he will not seek re-election in September but rejected demands that brought a million people on to the streets around the country that he quit immediately.
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Cairo: The White House on Wednesday condemned violence that has erupted over protests in Egypt and said that it was clear the Egyptian people needed to see progress and change immediately.

"The message that the president (Barack Obama) delivered clearly to President (Hosni) Mubarak was that the time for change had come," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

"If any of the violence is instigated by the government it should stop immediately," Gibbs said, while declining to speculate whether the government was in fact behind the violence. Protesters contend plainclothes police are among the pro-government attackers.

Gibbs said no decision had been made on cutting off the $1.5 billion in annual aid the US provides Egypt but that it was still under review. Gibbs reiterated President Barack Obama's call from Tuesday night that transition in Egypt must begin now - but he did not explain exactly what that meant or say whether Mubarak should resign now.

"Now means now," Gibbs said at the White House briefing.
"The people of Egypt need to see change, the people of Egypt need to see progress," he said.

Gibbs didn't directly answer when asked whether Obama viewed Mubarak as a dictator, saying the Egyptian president had a chance to show who he was.

At least 500 wounded in Cairo protest clashes, say medics.

Supporters of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak clashed on Wednesday with opposition protesters after they marched into the anti-Mubarak rally in Tahrir Square.

Shots were heard fired in the air in the square, witnesses said. It was not immediately clear where the shots came from.

Nearly 10,000 protesters massed again in Tahrir on Wednesday, rejecting Mubarak's speech as too little too late and renewed their demands he leave immediately.

Chaos erupted as they tore down banners denouncing the president. Fistfights broke out as they advanced across the massive square in the heart of the capital. The anti-government protesters grabbed Mubarak posters from the hands of the supporters and ripped them.

The two sides began hurling stones and bottles and sticks at each other, chasing each other as the protesters' human chains moved back to try to shield the larger mass of demonstrators at the plaza's centre.

At one point, a small contingent of pro-Mubarak forces on horseback and camels rushed into the anti-Mubarak crowds, swinging whips and sticks to beat people. Protesters retaliated, dragging some from their mounts, throwing them to the ground and beating their faces bloody.

Protesters were seen running with their shirts or faces bloodied, some men and women in the crowd were weeping. A scent of tear gas wafted over the area, but it was not clear who had fired it.

Live updates from Cairo

Gulf News Reporter Abbas Al Lawati reports (with input from agencies)

18:46pm:  Egypt rejects calls from the international community for an immediate transition of power. "What foreign parties are saying about 'a period of transition beginning immediately' in Egypt is rejected," foreign ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said in a statement, charging that such calls "sought to inflame the internal situation in Egypt".

3:42pm:
The Egyptian military is calling for an end to more than a week of demonstrations demanding President Hosni Mubarak step down immediately after nearly 30 years in power.

A military spokesman says: "Your message has arrived, your demands became known...you are capable of bringing normal life to Egypt."

Internet service is also returning to Egypt after days of an unprecedented cutoff by the government.

And state TV says authorities are easing a nighttime curfew, which now runs from 5 pm to 7 am instead of 3 pm to 8 am.

3:30pm:
Many people say any more protests will destroy the country. Pro-Mubarak protesters congregating on Game’at Adduwal Al Arabiya street, approximately 1,000.

3:15pm: Growing number of pro mubarak rallies taking place. Someone just stopped our car and put a pro mubarak sign under the wiper.

3pm: State TV has announced that salaries have been paid. People have rushed to the closest ATMs. I'm at an  ATM in Sayyida Zainab where there is a line up of about 60 people waiting to withdraw money. They said that they were surviving on help from friends and neighbours in the past few days adn that the situation did not reach the point of desperation.

2pm: The city is being cleaned up today. All the graffiti slogans on government buildings calling for Mubarak's removal are being painted over. In Sayida Zainab, a poor district of Cairo, life is slowly coming back to normal. Shops, especially those selling food are opening again. I spoke to the owner of a popular restaurant "Bahha" who said Hosni Mubarak's address yesterday made him cry.

"To see such a great man being reduced to this is very sad". The people here say they are content with the changes promised by Mubarak. "I know he will stand by his word. If he doesn't tens of millions will take to the streets." People here cherish the security that they have. There is a deep fear of Israel among the older generation and many say that Mubarak should be recognized for fending off attacks from Israel.

1:30pm: A signficantly smaller crowd is here today compared to yesterday at Tahrir Square, but many thousands here nonetheless. These are the core of those calling for a radical change, a rejection of the status quo and a change in the regime. More people are coming in. I've seen a number of debates and arguments about the solution to the status quo. Perhaps an ironing out of the protesters position on Mubarak's address yesterday.

12:15pm: I'm at a pro Mubarak rally by the state radio and television building. There are approximately 300-400 people here. Protesters say they understand and respect the views of the anti regime protesters but that Mubarak has been unjustly targeted. They admit that there are elements of the regime that are deeply corrupt but he should not be blamed for it. In the words of one protester.

"Mubarak is our spiritual father. In the 30 years of his rule no one has gotten to know Egypt and its people better. He has had military achievements that need to be recognized. Anything that comes out of his mouth his holy".

Many people here say they support Mubarak's decision not to stand for government in September but if he decides to run they would vote for him.

11:45am: 
The BBC's Jim Muir in Cairo reports that up to 2,000 protesters spent the night in Tahrir Square and want to see President Mubarak deposed.

However, there were reportedly some quieter voices among those in Tahrir Square last night who were saying that this is the time to step back, accept Mubarak's concessions, and allow for a smooth transition.

11:40am: Jazeera Channel and Jazeera Live are back on air.

10:45am: As the sun rises over Cairo, protesters in Tahrir Square begin preparations for another day of demonstrations against President Mubarak's regime.

The army tanks are still deployed throughout different positions in and around the square.

Gulf News reporter Abbas Al Lawati talks to Radio1/Radio 2

Listen!

* Audio supplied by Radio 2

Mubarak appealed over the heads of the urban demonstrators to the wider nation of 80 million.

The "noble youths" who had begun protests, he said, had been exploited by men of violence.

Much may depend on the army, once Mubarak's power base, which appears to be trying to ensure a transition of power that would maintain the influence of the armed forces.

Under evident pressure from Obama and the army as much as from the crowds on the streets, Mubarak delivered a composed 10-minute televised statement.

To those demanding he flee the country in the manner of his ousted Tunisian counterpart last month, Mubarak said: "This is my country ... and I will die on its soil."

But he would not give up power just yet: "I say in all honesty and regardless of the current situation that I did not intend to nominate myself for a new presidential term," he said.

"I will work in the remaining months of my term to take the steps to ensure a peaceful transfer of power."

Speech "inflames our anger"

Many of those on the streets in defiance of a curfew doubted his commitment to making the kind of sweeping democratic constitutional changes which he has resisted since inheriting the mantle of the ruling military establishment in 1981.

Protesters speak to Gulf News

Listen! 

* Audio supplied by Radio 2

At Cairo's Tahrir, or Liberation, Square, focus of protests for a week, young professionals in their 20s were unimpressed.

"The speech is useless and only inflames our anger," said Shadi Morkos. "We will continue to protest."

In Alexandria, the second city, troops in tanks fired shots in the air to keep order after skirmishes between anti-government and pro-Mubarak groups. But there was no sign that the army was trying to halt anti-government protests.

It has said it will protect marchers and called their demands "legitimate".

Opposition, analysts react

Arab League Secretary General Amr Mousa, a popular former Egyptian foreign minister, said on Tuesday he would seriously consider whether to seek the Egyptian presidency.

"Yes, I have that right. But I will think (about) it seriously in the next few weeks," Moussa said when asked in an interview with CNN if he would run to replace President Hosni Mubarak in an interview with CNN.

Moussa said Mubarak had offered something new in his speech on Tuesday, that some people did not believe he had gone far enough and that debate in the coming days would determine whether he had gone far enough.

Analysts said tensions could rise even within the army if Mubarak were to hang on too long, and if senior officers were seen to be protecting a leader who had lost legitimacy.

"The longer this goes on, the more people will associate the military top brass with Mubarak. That is very dangerous," said Faysal Itani, deputy head of Middle East and North Africa Forecasting at Exclusive Analysis.

"It will put enormous strain on the security services."

A British-based cleric from the Muslim Brotherhood, the hitherto banned party which is the most organised Egyptian opposition group, also said there could be conflict.

"It will add fuel to the fire. His speech will bring the danger of conflict in the country. We were expecting him to be stubborn, but not to that extent," Kamal Al Helbawy said.

Tuesday's demonstration was an emphatic rejection of Mubarak's appointment of a new vice president, Omar Sulaiman, and an offer to open a dialogue with the opposition.

Many protesters spoke of a new push on Friday, the Egyptian weekend, to rally at Cairo's presidential palace to dislodge Mubarak: "This won't fly any more," said 35-year-old doctor Ahmad Khalifa.

"If Egyptians stay on the streets till Friday, probably Mubarak's next offer will be to step down right away."

Regional instability

His departure would reconfigure the politics of the Middle East, with implications from Israel to oil giant Saudi Arabia.

King Abdullah of Jordan replaced his prime minister on Tuesday after protests. Yemen and Sudan have also seen unrest.

Just four weeks since the death of Mohammad Bouazizi, the Tunisian who set himself on fire to protest at oppression and corruption, the wave of anger he set in motion has gathered strength across the region.

The unrest has sent oil prices higher on fears of trouble in Saudi Arabia and on Egypt's Suez Canal. That in turn has raised worries about a further rise in inflation, increasing the potential for social unrest far beyond the Middle East.

Cairo's safest view is from a plane

Foreign governments pulled their nationals from Egypt Tuesday amid massive anti-government protests shaking the Arab nation as Washington ordered non-essential embassy staff there to leave.

In London, Foreign Secretary William Hague announced Britain was sending a chartered aircraft to Cairo on Wednesday to bring back citizens who wished to leave.

"I will send further flights if we see a need to do so," Hague told parliament.

Hague later said that while there was a sufficient number of commercial flights between Egypt and Britain, he wanted to give the estimated 2,000 British nationals in Cairo every opportunity to leave if they wished.

Meanwhile, British tour operators offered a string of promotions on holidays in Egypt's Red Sea resorts which reportedly remain relatively calm and popular with holidaymakers despite unrest elsewhere in the country.

But Germany widened its travel warning to include all of Egypt including the Red Sea tourist resorts.

Germany's foreign ministry "urgently warns against travelling to anywhere in Egypt in view of recent developments and the unstable situation," a statement said.

"This advice also applies to the tourist resorts of the Red Sea, even if the situation is calm there at present," it said.

Following the announcement, Germany's DRV travel federation announced tour operators were cancelling their trips to Egypt until mid-February.

In Athens, the Greek foreign ministry said it had evacuated by air 155 nationals living in the Egyptian seaside city of Alexandria.

The first of three chartered flights carrying Greek expatriates touched down at Athens international airport around 1500 GMT, followed by two others, the foreign ministry said.

Austria also started evacuating hundreds of its citizens from Egypt overnight, the foreign ministry said.

An Austrian Airlines flight commissioned by the ministry landed shortly after midnight in Vienna with 138 passengers on board.

A plane from the Austrian army followed Tuesday morning with 66 travellers, the ministry said.

Algeria said it would begin to repatriate its nationals on Wednesday.

Two Air Algeria flights would cater for those wanting to leave on Wednesday and Thursday, the Algerian Foreign Ministry said.

The jitters stretched as far as Asia, where Taiwan announced it had chartered a plane to evacuate 129 people from Egypt and Hong Kong security officials said they were working on getting their own tourists home as soon as possible.

"The government is working closely with the (Chinese) embassy on a suitable and safe arrangement for their departure from Egypt as soon as possible," Lai Tung-kwok, Hong Kong's undersecretary for security, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the United States ordered the departure of all non-emergency US government staff from Egypt.

"The Department of State will continue to facilitate the evacuation of US citizens who require assistance," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said in announcing the move.

He said the departure of all non-emergency US government personnel was ordered "in light of recent events."

Rabat also said it would repatriate some 300 Moroccans aboard two flights.

Malaysia says it will send a ship and planes to evacuate more than 11,000 students from Cairo amid the protests rocking Egypt.

Prime Minister Najib Razak says a cargo ship currently used by the navy to protect Malaysian vessels from Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden will arrive at a port south of Cairo this weekend to take about 500 students.

Najib said the other students will be flown out on planes belonging to the Southeast Asian country's air force, Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia.

Comments (2)

  1. Added 15:15 February 2, 2011

    I believe it's time for the young people to go back to work, it was a tough job but they did it. they make me proud to be an Egyptian of this generation. but they shouldn't push the situation further, it is our country after all and we don't want it to go down, just to be free... Let's give him a chance to make history and change himself from a tyrant to a savior in the next few month. And if he doesn't keep his word, then we know what to do and how to make it work. God bless Egypt, a civilized and moderate country.

    Nermin, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  2. Added 10:00 February 2, 2011

    I agree with Barak Obama's latest comment that the main Egyptian opposition party Muslim Brotherhood are the most disciplined force to run Egypt and Mubarak should come into sense and realise the ground reality and should leave the country, to stop current turmoil throughout Egypt, without further loss of life and property.

    SHAMSUL HUDA, Dhaka, Bangladesh

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