Massive Crowds Across Egypt Demand Mubarak Ouster

Daily News Article   —   Posted on February 2, 2011

NOTE: This is a developing story.  Follow the news for the latest updates.

(by Hadeel Al-Shalchi and Sarah El Deeb, MontereyHerald.com) AP, CAIRO – More than a quarter-million people flooded Cairo’s main square Tuesday – …young and old, urban poor and middle class professionals – mounting by far the largest protest yet in a week of unrelenting demands for President Hosni Mubarak to leave after nearly 30 years in power.

The crowds — determined but peaceful — filled Tahrir, or Liberation, Square and spilled into nearby streets, among them people defying a government transportation shutdown to make their way from rural provinces. Protesters jammed in shoulder-to-shoulder, with schoolteachers, farmers, unemployed university graduates, women in conservative headscarves and women in high heels, men in suits and working-class men in scuffed shoes.

They sang nationalist songs, danced, beat drums and chanted the anti-Mubarak slogan “Leave! Leave! Leave!” as military helicopters buzzed overhead. Organizers said the aim was to intensify marches to get the president out of power by Friday, and similar demonstrations erupted in at least five other cities around Egypt.

Soldiers at checkpoints set up the entrances of the square did nothing to stop the crowds from entering.

The military promised on state TV Monday night that it would not fire on protesters answering a call for a million to demonstrate, a sign that army support for Mubarak may be unraveling as momentum builds for an extraordinary eruption of discontent and demands for democracy in the United States’ most important Arab ally. …..

Mubarak, 82, would be the second Arab leader pushed from office by a popular uprising in the history of the modern Middle East, following the ouster last month of Tunisia’s president.

The movement to drive Mubarak out …[is] fueled by deep frustration with an autocratic regime blamed for ignoring the needs of the poor and allowing corruption and official abuse to run rampant. After years of tight state control, protesters emboldened by the Tunisia unrest took to the streets on Jan. 25 and mounted a once-unimaginable series of protests across this nation of 80 million people — the region’s most populous country.

The repercussions were being felt around the Mideast, as other authoritarian governments fearing popular discontent pre-emptively tried to burnish their democratic image.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II fired his government Tuesday in the face of smaller street protests, named an ex-prime minister to form a new Cabinet and ordered him to launch political reforms. The Palestinian Cabinet in West Bank said it would hold long-promised municipal elections “as soon as possible.”

With Mubarak’s hold on power in Egypt weakening, the world is forced to plan for the end of a regime that has maintained three decades of peace with Israel and a bulwark against Islamic militants. But under the stability was a barely hidden crumbling of society, mounting criticism of the regime’s human rights record and a widening gap between rich and poor, with 40 percent of the population living under or just above the poverty line set by the World Bank at $2 a day.

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Normally bustling, Cairo’s streets outside Tahrir Square [on Tuesday] had a fraction of their normal weekday traffic. Banks, schools and the stock market in Cairo were closed for the third working day, making cash tight. Bread prices spiraled. An unprecedented shutdown of the Internet was in its fifth day.

The official death toll from the crisis stood at 97, with thousands injured, thought reports from witnesses across the country indicated the actual toll was far higher.

But perhaps most startling was how peaceful protests have been in recent days, after the military replaced the police in keeping control and took a policy of letting the demonstrations continue.

Egypt’s army leadership has reassured the U.S. that the military does not intend to crack down on demonstrators, but instead is allowing the protesters to “wear themselves out,” according to a former U.S. official in contact with several top Egyptian army officers. …

Troops and … tanks stood at roads leading into Tahrir Square, a plaza overlooked by the headquarters of the Arab League, the campus of the American University in Cairo, the famed Egyptian Museum and the Mugammma, an enormous building housing departments of the notoriously corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy.

Protester volunteers wearing tags reading “the People’s Security” circulated through the crowds in the square, saying they were watching for government infiltrators who might try to instigate violence.

“We will throw out anyone who tries to create trouble,” one announced over a loudspeaker. Other volunteers joined the soldiers at the checkpoints, searching bags of those entering for weapons. Organizers said the protest would remain in the square and not attempt to march to avoid frictions with the military.

Two dummies representing Mubarak dangled from traffic lights. On their chests was written: “We want to put the murderous president on trial.” Their faces were scrawled with the Star of David, an allusion to many protesters’ feeling that Mubarak is a friend of Israel, still seen by most Egyptians as their country’s archenemy more than 30 years after the two nations signed a peace treaty.

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Among the older protesters, there was also a sense of amazement after three decades of unquestioned control by Mubarak’s security forces over the streets.

“We could never say no to Mubarak when we were young, but our young people today proved that they can say no, and I’m here to support them,” said Yusra Mahmoud, a 46-year-old school principal who said she had been sleeping in the square alongside other protesters for the past two nights.

Authorities shut down all roads and public transportation to Cairo and in and out of other main cities, security officials said. Train services nationwide were suspended for a second day and all bus services between cities were halted.

Still, many from the provinces managed to make it to the square. Hamada Massoud, a 32-year-old a lawyer, said he and 50 others came in cars and minibuses from the impoverished province of Beni Sweif south of Cairo.

“Cairo today is all of Egypt,” he said. “I want my son to have a better life and not suffer as much as I did … I want to feel like I chose my president.” Tens of thousands rallied in the cities of Alexandria, Suez and Mansoura, north of Cairo, as well as in the southern province of Assiut and Luxor, the southern city where some 5,000 people protested outside an ancient Egyptian temple.

The various protesters have little in common beyond the demand that Mubarak go.

A range of movements is involved, with sometimes conflicting agendas — including students, online activists, grass-roots organizers, old-school opposition politicians and the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood.

Perhaps the most significant tensions among them are between young secular activists and the Muslim Brotherhood, which wants to form a state governed by Islamic law. The more secular are deeply suspicious the Brotherhood aims to co-opt what they contend is a spontaneous, popular movement. American officials have suggested they have similar fears.

A second day of talks among opposition groups fell apart after many of the youth groups boycotted the meeting over charges that some of the traditional, government-condoned opposition parties have agreed to start a dialogue with Suleiman.

AP correspondents Maggie Michael, Maggie Hyde and Lee Keath in Cairo and Kimberly Dozier in Washington contributed to this report.

Associated Press.  Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from The Monterey Herald. Visit the website at montereyherald.com.


Questions

1. a) What is the population of Egypt?
b) How many people took part in Tuesday’s anti-government protest in Cairo, Egypt?

2. What outcome did organizers say they were aiming for in Tuesday’s protest?

3. How have other authoritarian governments in the Arab world reacted to the protests taking place in Tunisia and Egypt?

4. What did organizers do in an attempt to keep the protest on Tuesday peaceful? Be specific.

5. What attempt did the Egyptian government make to prevent people from traveling into Cairo for the protest?

6. a) What do the protesters all have in common?
b) How are the protesters different?

7. From para. 18: “Two dummies representing Mubarak dangled from traffic lights. On their chests was written: ‘We want to put the murderous president on trial.’ Their faces were scrawled with the Star of David, an allusion to many protesters’ feeling that Mubarak is a friend of Israel, still seen by most Egyptians as their country’s archenemy more than 30 years after the two nations signed a peace treaty.”
No one knows how Mubarak’s ouster will affect Israel at this point. Are you surprised by Egyptians’ expressing hatred for Israel along with their frustration over economic issues and corruption in Mubarak’s government? Explain your answer.


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Background

Does the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood Have Ties to Terrorism?

  • It’s unclear. A widespread Islamist organization founded in 1928, the Brotherhood seeks to Islamize societies from the ground up and compel governments in Muslim countries to adhere to sharia, or Islamic law.
  • At various times in its history, the group has used or supported violence and has been repeatedly banned in Egypt for attempting to overthrow Cairo’s secular government.
  • Since the 1970s, however, the Egyptian Brotherhood has disavowed violence and sought to participate in Egyptian politics. The U.S. State Department does not include the group on its list of terrorist organizations. 
  • Still, the Egyptian government mistrusts the Brotherhood’s pledge of nonviolence and continues to ban the organization.
  • One reason the Brotherhood’s commitment to nonviolence is unclear: The original Egyptian organization has spawned branches in 70 countries. These organizations bear the Brotherhood name, but their connections to the founding group vary and some of them may provide financial, logistical, or other support to terrorist organizations.
  • Some terrorist groups-including Hamas, Jamaat al-Islamiyya, and al-Qaeda-have historic and ideological affiliations with the Egyptian Brotherhood.
  • In addition, some of the world’s most dangerous terrorists were once Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood members, including Osama bin Laden’s top deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri. The organization is like “stepping stone,” says Evan Kohlmann, an international terrorism consultant. (from cfr.org/publication/9248/does_the_muslim_brotherhood_have_ties_to_terrorism.html)
PRESIDENT MUBARAK’S RESPONSE TO THE PROTESTERS:

  • Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said Tuesday he will not run for a new term in office in September elections and will work during the rest of his term for a “peaceful transfer of power” in a new attempt to defuse massive protests demanding his immediate ouster.
  • In a speech aired on state TV Tuesday night, Mr. Mubarak said, “In all sincerity, regardless of the current circumstances, I never intended to be a candidate for another term.”
  • He said he will work during “the final months of my current term” to carry out the “necceasary steps for the peaceful transfer of power.”
  • [the crowds] who have been protesting day after day say they will accept nothing short of Mr. Mubarak’s departure. (from washingtontimes.com/news/2011/feb/1/massive-crowds-across-egypt-demand-mubaraks-ouster)

Resources

Read commentaries on the situation in Egypt at nationalreview.com and steveemerson.com.

Watch a news report from Cairo below: