What’s Happening in Egypt Explained

Cairo, Egypt - A Tahrir Square protester painted his face the colors of Egyptian flag. Photographer: © <a href="http://zumapress.com/zpdtl.html?IMG=20110211_rua_x99_054.jpg&CNT=0">Xu Jinquan</a>

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This regularly updated explainer was first posted at 1:00 p.m. EST on Tuesday, January 25. It is no longer being updated as of late February.

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The basics: Egypt is a large, mostly Arab, mostly Muslim country. At around 80 million people, it has the largest population in the Middle East and the third-largest in Africa. Most of Egypt is in North Africa, although the part of the country that borders Israel, the Sinai peninsula, is in Asia. Its other neighbors are Sudan (to the South), Libya (to the West), and Saudi Arabia (across the Gulf of Aqaba to the East). It has been was ruled by Hosni Mubarak since from 1981 until February 11

What’s happening? Inspired by the recent protests that led to the fall of the Tunisian government and the ousting of longtime Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Egyptians have joined other protesters across the Arab world (in Algeria, notably) in protesting their autocratic governments, high levels of corruption, and grinding poverty. In Egypt, tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets. Here’s a photo of one of the protests in Cairo, the capital (via Twitter):

Why are Egyptians unhappy? They have basically no more freedom than Tunisians. Egypt is ranked 138th of 167 countries on The Economist‘s Democracy index, a widely accepted measure of political freedom. That ranking puts Egypt just seven spots ahead of Tunisia. And Egyptians are significantly poorer than their cousins to the west. 

How did this all start? This particular round of protests started with the protests in Tunisia. But like their Tunisian counterparts, Egyptian protesters have pointed to a specific incident as inspiration for the unrest. Many have cited the June 2010 beating death of Khaled Said (warning: graphic photos), allegedly at the hands of police, as motivation for their rage. But it’s also clear that the issues here are larger.

Why is this more complicated for the US than Tunisia was? The Tunisian regime was a key ally for the US in the fight against Al Qaeda. But the US government’s ties to Tunisia’s Ben Ali pale in comparison to American ties to Egypt. Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institution, a centrist think tank, explains 

Predictions that a Tunisia-like uprising will soon topple Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak are premature—the Egyptian regime, with its well-paid military, is likely to be more unified and more ruthless than its Tunisian counterparts were… The U.S. is the primary benefactor of the Egyptian regime, which, in turn, has reliably supported American regional priorities. After Iraq, Afghanistan, and Israel, Egypt is the largest recipient of U.S. assistance, including $1.3 billion in annual military aid. In other words, if the army ever decides to shoot into a crowd of unarmed protestors, it will be shooting with hardware provided by the United States. As Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations points out, the Egyptian military is “not there to project power, but to protect the regime.” [Emphasis added.]

How do I follow what’s happening in real-time? 

  • Twitter, as is always the case with breaking news and live events, is a great resource. If you were paying attention to the Tunisia situation, you should already be following the Twitter feed of Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, a columnist for The National, the United Arab Emirates’ leading English-language newspaper. You should also follow Brookings’ Shadi Hamidthe Arabist, a leading English-language blog on the Arab world; and the #Egypt hashtag and the #Jan25 hashtag. Also, this Sulia feed has a wide selection of experts and on-the-ground witnesses. UPDATE: Twitter is reportedly blocked in Egypt itself right now, however. More details on that here. UPDATE 2: There are workarounds, however.
  • Looking for live video? You can watch Al Jazeera English live on the web. Better, perhaps, is the video feed from cairowitness, who has set up a webcam downtown in Cairo, Egypt’s bustling capital. (UPDATE: That video feed is down.)
  • Elsewhere on the web, you should be reading Al-Bab, a blog by the Guardian‘s Middle East editor, Brian Whitaker, and following the Guardian‘s live blog of key events in Egypt and throughout the region. Don’t just follow the Arabist on Twitter—read the blog. Finally, the key essay to read on what America’s options are going forward is “Obama’s Impossible Dilemma in Egypt,” by Shadi Hamid, the Brookings Institution analyst mentioned above. 

What’s the latest?

UPDATE (Tuesday): This video of a “Tiananmen Square moment” is being widely circulated on Twitter:

UPDATE 2 (Tuesday): Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head International Atomic Energy Administration (IAEA), is perhaps the most famous expatriate Egyptian. In the past, he’s been cited as one person who could possibly take down Mubarak. Definitive Foreign Policy article on that here: “Egypt’s Reluctant Revolutionary.” Anyway, ElBaradei just gave a remarkable interview on Al Jazeera English. Al Jazeera’s Dima Khatib has the key quote:

This is the beginning of an uprising. I will be going back to Egypt soon.

UPDATE 3 (Tuesday): The Awl has an on-the-ground report from a teacher in Cairo.

UPDATE 4, Tuesday 6:00 p.m. EST: Sky News’ Tim Marshall reports a “massive,” presumably tear “gas attack” that has “cleared” Cairo’s main square.

UPDATE 5, Tuesday 6:30 p.m. EST: The video feed from downtown Cairo mentioned above seems to be down now. Arabist’s Issandr El Amrani has a good post with some key takeaways from today’s events. It is now 1:30 a.m. on Wednesday in Cairo. This post will be updated with any further major developments.

UPDATE 6, Tuesday 7:45 p.m. EST: The State Department has released a statement on the situation in Egypt.

>UPDATE 7, Wednesday 10:15 a.m. EST: Via Jeffrey Goldberg, here’s some great video (with English captions) of recent developments in Egypt. And Foreign Policy‘s Mark Lynch has a good essay asking whether the Arab revolutions will spread.

UPDATE 8, Wednesday 10:20 a.m. EST: Jack Shenker, the Guardian‘s reporter in Cairo, was beaten by Egyptian police last night. He recorded audio during the entire event. His Twitter handle is @hackneylad.

UPDATE 9, Wednesday 12:45 p.m. EST: The Council on Foreign Relations’ Steven Cook reports from Egypt. Also, check out this photo (via Twitter):

UPDATE 10, 11:45 a.m. EST Thursday: Lots of news to round up from today. The big takeaway, though, is that the protests continue. Tomorrow may be a major day of reckoning: protest organizers have called for huge demonstrations (expected to be the largest since Tuesday), and if protests happen as people leave Friday prayers at Egypt’s 90,000+ mosques, the regime could be in real trouble. Anyway, here’s some of what you should know about:

UPDATE 11, Thursday 6:15 p.m. EST: Arabist just posted a claim that Egypt has “shut off the internet” entirely. I don’t know how seriously to take this, but Arabist is a generally reliable site and a full shutdown is something that is theoretically possible. Arabist also notes the alleged shutdown happened “just after AP TV posted a video of a man being shot.” If the shutdown is real, it’s a huge sign that the regime is very, very worried about the protests scheduled for tomorrow (well, today Egyptian time). As Sultan Al Qassemi says, “the Egyptian regime seems willing to do anything to stay in power, including plunging Egypt back into the dark ages if necessary.” UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: Arabist notes that “it’s not everywhere,” and that a foreign journalist working at a hotel in Cairo has reported to them that he still has internet access.

In less urgent news, The Awl has posted a great excerpt from Egyptian blogger and activist Hossam el-Hamalawy’s interview with Al Jazeera. “We don’t expect any help from America,” el-Hamalawy says, “just to leave us alone.” 

UPDATE 12, Thursday 6:45 p.m. EST: The Arabist report that the internet is down throughout Egypt (see previous update) is looking increasingly well-founded. Alec Ross, a State Department spokesman, has tweeted in Arabic that the US “call[s] upon the Egyptian gov to allow unrestricted access to the internet & peaceful protests.” In addition, Arabist’s Issandr El Amrani (follow him! @arabisthas “confirmation from a person in a position to know at one Egypt’s mobile phone operators that the phone companies have been ordered by the authorities to shut down SMS services (which has been the case for at least an hour) and Blackberry Messenging in Cairo (and perhaps elsewhere in Egypt).” 

UPDATE 13, Thursday 7:15 p.m. EST: Associated Press: “A major service provider for Egypt, Italy-based Seabone, reported early Friday that there was no Internet traffic going into or out of the country after 12:30 a.m. local time.” 12:30 a.m. in Egypt is 5:30 p.m. the day before EST, so that fits with our timeline and the Arabist report.

UPDATE 14, Thursday, 9:30 p.m. EST: UStream has audio and video from the streets of Egypt last night. NBC’s Richard Engel, who’s in Cairo, reports that US officials expect “significant” violence tomorrow. Here’s his report on the NBC Nightly News. The indispensable Arabist blog reports that “‘almost all leaders of Muslim brotherhood are confirmed arrested,’ according to Khaled Said Facebook group, original organizers of #Jan25.” The Atlantic has remarkable translated excerpts of the protesters’ action plan. Here’s a highlight:

Milford Sound in New Zealand

The New York Times has two must-read articles: one on Al Jazeera’s role in spreading the unrest, and another explaining (with sources) how the US tried to pressure Egypt not to crack down too hard on protesters. Finally, Foreign Policy has an article from a former Egyptian foreign ministry official who resigned in protest (“shame on America if it stands in the way” of “Egypt’s struggle for freedom”), and ThinkProgress has a report about how the US Chamber of Commerce’s Egyptian affiliate “went to bat for the Egyptian dictatorship.”

UPDATE 15, Friday 10:10 a.m. EST: As expected, huge protests and significant violence across Egypt today. Mohamed ElBaradei is reportedly under house arrest. But so far, the regime shows no sign of being ready to concede—and just moments ago, reports emerged on Al Jazeera that Egyptian army vehicles have entered Cairo. Sultan Al Qassemi and CNN’s Ben Wedeman are the people to follow on Twitter. Also, Al Jazeera just reported that protesters have forced security forces entirely out of Alexandria, Egypt’s second-largest city.

UPDATE 16, Friday 10:30 a.m. EST: The Egyptian government has announced a 6 p.m. curfew throughout Cairo, Alexandria, and one other city. That would start around 11:00 a.m. EST. It will be interesting to see whether protesters comply, and what the government does if and when they don’t. Also, if you turn on Al Jazeera English right now, they have great video of a confrontation between protesters and riot police. The protesters are trying to organize evening prayers in front of the riot police. State security forces have entered the building AJE is broadcasting from. Also, here are some details on the Egypt internet shutdown.

UPDATE 17, Friday 10:45 a.m. EST: State television has reportedly announced that Mubarak, as commander-in-chief, imposed the curfew. Al Arabiya has reported the military requested the curfew be imposed. Reuters has a good article on why the military’s role is key. An Al Jazeera reporter in Alexandria just said on the air she was “going to have to end this phone call because people in charge of security are escorting us away from this vantage point.” Security forces also reportedly trying to take Al Jazeera cameras off the air in Cairo.

UPDATE 18, Friday 10:50 a.m. EST: Mubarak is supposed to speak shortly, according to Egyptian state television. State television also say he ordered the Army to help police with security.

UPDATE 19, Friday 11:05 a.m. EST: The curfew has begun, but it’s “clearly not having any effect,” Al Jazeera says. Live video here. “There’s no sign whatsoever that the Egyptian protesters are complying with the curfew.”

UPDATE 20, Friday 11:15 a.m. EST: The BBC has video of one of their journalists who was beaten and electrocuted by Egyptian cops. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will reportedly speak on the Egypt situation at 11:50 a.m. EST.

UPDATE 21, Friday 11:25 a.m. EST: Al Jazeera just confirmed that the headquarters of the National Democratic Party (NDP), Egypt’s ruling party, is on fire. UPDATE: A BBC reporter says the fire is across the street. Al Jazeera still saying it’s the HQ.

UPDATE 22, Friday 11:35 a.m. EST: Gunfire and explosions in downtown Cairo. No idea if it’s live ammunition. It’s worth noting that if the government falls, it will happen right near the building Al Jazeera is broadcasting from. The ministries of interior and information, the main radio and television stations, and the ruling party headquarters are right there.

UPDATE 23, Friday 11:50 a.m. EST: Al Arabiya is reporting “live fire and clashes” near Egyptian parliament building.

UPDATE 24, Friday 12:00 p.m. EST: Al Jazeera just showed video of police firing tear gas on protesters as they were finishing their evening prayers.

UPDATE 25, Friday 12:15 p.m. EST: Hillary Clinton just spoke. Highlights: US “very concerned” about the crackdown, protesters should refrain from violence. We support universal human rights, urges Egyptian government to allow peaceful protests and reverse cutoff of communications. “We want to partner with the Egyptian people and their government.” Al Jazeera just reported that Egyptian troops in armored personnel carriers entering Alexandria flashed thumbs-up signs to protesters and were greeted with cheers. My colleague David Corn points out that with Clinton’s statement, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs will be able to respond to questions about Egypt by pointing to Clinton’s statement. Foreign Policy‘s Mark Lynch says “Don’t focus on what Obama admin saying to protesters, focus on message to those inside Egyptian regime who have to choose.”

UPDATE 26, Friday 12:20 p.m. EST: The White House has released a photo of President Obama receiving a briefing on the Egypt protests:

Marcy Wheeler tweets, “Is picture of bunch of old white guys sitting around Obama supposed to tear us away from Al Jazeera coverage? Or contrast?”

UPDATE 27, Friday 12:35 p.m. EST: The Associated Press reports that protesters have stormed the Egyptian foreign ministry. Egyptian state television says Mubarak has extended the curfew to the entire country.

UPDATE 28, Friday 1:05 p.m. EST: Check out this video from earlier today: 

That was in Cairo.

UPDATE 29, Friday 1:35 p.m. EST: It’s been more than two hours since Mubarak was supposed to speak, and he still hasn’t shown. Fires near the headquarters of the ruling party are still raging out of control. I just got off the phone with Adel Iskendar, a professor at Georgetown who is an expert in media in the Arab world. Here are my notes on what he had to say about the situation:

The regime is in its last throes. It’s been battered and scandalised over the past 36 hours. It’s trying to save face but it’s probably too late. There’s nothing they can say to rectify what has been lost. The people are obviously very very fed up and the genie is out of the bottle. It’s up to Mubarak to make some concessions and I think he’s going to have to make some major concessions to please the crowd, but it’s not going to happen with force. He’s stuck. It’s a very precarious position if you’re an aging authoritarian leader…..

There’s no way that you can train officials or a police force or a military to confront a massive uprising of this magnitude. It remains to be seen what will happen but I think the regime is breathing its last breaths right now.

There’s only one thing that will bring calm to the country right now—genuine abdication, dissolution of the parliament, repeal of emergency laws—a complete overhaul of Egypt’s political and economic structure. The Egyptians, now that they’ve decided nothing can stop them, are going to go all the way. They’re not going to compromise on their wishes and needs and rights.

Iskendar is of Egyptian descent, by the way. Other news: the Times has a good story on how protesters and the Army shook hands and prayed in Alexandria, Egypt’s second-largest city. They also have a good story on concerns that the Muslim Brotherhood, which has held off for much of the week, may be becoming more involved in the uprising

UPDATE 30, Friday 1:55 p.m. EST: ElBaradei has reportedly been released from house arrest. His spokesman referred to the Mubarak government the “former regime in Egypt” on Al Jazeera ten minutes ago. Al Jazeera is also reporting that protesters are looting the headquarters of the ruling party. The White House press briefing has been delayed—I’m going to bet because the situation in Egypt is so much in flux. Mubarak has still not spoken.

UPDATE 31, Friday 2:15 p.m. EST: The Associated Press has a source saying “the US will review its stand on providing aid to Egypt based on unfolding events.” America gives about $1.3 billion in military aid to the regime every year, so this puts huge pressure on the power centers in Egypt, including the military, the NDP, and Mubarak himself.

UPDATE 32, Friday 3:00 p.m. EST: Things are getting really serious. Al Jazeera reports that protesters have stormed the state TV station and freed prisoners from government detention centers. And here, via The Atlantic, is a great and soon-to-be-iconic photo of an Egyptian kissing a police officer:

UPDATE 33, Friday 3:15 p.m.: Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, is giving his daily press briefing now. The big news is him confirming that the US will review aid to Egypt based on how the situation develops in the coming days. Gibbs also said President Obama hasn’t called Mubarak, and declined an opportunity to say the US “stands by” Mubarak, only saying that the US is “monitoring” the situation.

UPDATE 34, Friday 4:15 p.m. EST: The general reaction to the White House briefing seems to be that the US thinks regime change is more likely than not but is still trying to hedge its bets. The fact that Gibbs wouldn’t say he “stands by” Mubarak is significant. CNN’s Ben Wedeman, who you should be following on Twitter, reports that he “saw boys” with “a massive seal of the Republic” looted from the State television building. “If this isn’t the end, it certainly looks and smells like it,” he says. An Al Jazeera English anchor just wondered openly whether Mubarak has left the country. Ahmad Kelani, a spokesman for ElBaradei’s party, tells Al Jazeera “there is no longer an Egyptian regime. Now we have moved into a new phase.” And the Egyptian Army chief of staff has unexpectedly left DC and headed back to Egypt. There’s some speculation he could lead a transitional government, but that’s just speculation. More as it happens. UPDATE: Wedeman adds that Egyptian officials he spoke to today “were completely confused, incapable of giving reasoned responses to simple questions.”

UPDATE 35, 4:30 p.m. EST Friday: Al Jazeera reports that top regime and NDP party officials and businessmen are leaving Egypt on private jets, but Cairo Airport officials are denying it. No word on Mubarak. Also, the Speaker of the Egyptian parliament is supposed to release a statement on an “important matter” soon. It remains to be seen whether that will actually happen. It’s now nearly midnight in Egypt.

UPDATE 36, Friday 4:50 p.m. EST: Bruce Riedel has an excellent, must-read article on how the Muslim Brotherhood could actually prove a reasonable force in a post-Mubarak Egypt. “Many scholars of political Islam also judge the Brotherhood is the most reasonable face of Islamic politics in the Arab world today. Skeptics fear ElBaradei [who has a loose alliance with the group] will be swept along by more radical forces.” Some will claim that Mubarak’s downfall can only lead to radicalism. But I like the optimism of Riedel’s take.

UPDATE 37, Friday 5:00 p.m. EST: Israeli television is reporting Mubarak has fled the country. Don’t take it too seriously until there’s some sort of independent confirmation. I’ve already heard rumors of him going to Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, and London. None of it panned out yet.

UPDATE 38, Friday 5:10 p.m. EST: The burning ruling party (NDP) headquarters is right next door to the National Museum, which is loaded with Egypt’s cultural treasures. Wired‘s Spencer Ackerman makes a great point: “Army is surrounding the National Museum to protect it, while letting the nearby NDP HQ burn. Doesn’t that say it all?” Yes, it does. Also: Al Jazeera says state television has issued a statement saying Mubarak will give a statement shortly.

UPDATE 39, Friday 5:30 p.m. EST: Mubarak is speaking now. Important note: It’s a recorded speech, and we don’t know when it was recorded. The speech, as The Atlantic‘s Max Fisher wrote, is “just breathtakingly obvlivious and dishonest.” Mubarak doesn’t sound like he’s leaving. Instead, he’s trying to align himself with the protesters, against the rest of his government. He said he will “continue our political, economic, and social reforms for a free and democratic Egyptian society,” but he didn’t set a date for free elections. Like Ben Ali before him, Mubarak noted that he “dedicated his life” to his country. “Yes,” says Al Jazeera’s Dima Khatib, “presidency for life.” Mubarak says he has asked the government to resign—everyone but him, that is. My favorite comment is from Ali Abunimah: “My dad listening to Mubarak: ‘This is what the Americans call bullshit.'”

In other news, White House political adviser David Axelrod just told ABC’s Jake Tapper that Obama has “on several occasions” “directly confronted” Mubarak on human rights. That means the White House wants people to know it’s been “tough” on Mubarak.

UPDATE 40, Friday 6:30 p.m. EST: NBC’s Chuck Todd reports that President Obama just got off a 30-minute phone call with Mubarak, and will share the details of the call with the American people in live comments from the White House very shortly. 

UPDATE 41, 6:40 p.m. EST Friday: Obama just spoke. He’s basically taking Mubarak at his word that there will be reform in Egypt. (Obama says there “must” be reform.) The bottom line seems to be that the US will continue to back Mubarak for the time being. But a lot is still up in the air. Much of what ultimately happens (and what the US ultimately does) will depend on the ability of protesters and regime supporters to create facts on the ground.

UPDATE 42, Friday 6:50 p.m. EST: Our own Tim Murphy has produced an excellent slideshow with images from today’s protests and clashes in Egypt.

UPDATE 43, Friday 7:30 p.m. EST: The army is reportedly making protest gatherings in Cairo’s streets very difficult. It’s also 2:30 a.m. there, so things may be starting to wind down for the evening. CNN has a good article explaining why the protests make it extremely unlikely that Mubarak’s son Gamal will succeed his father as had once been expected. I’d just emphasize that Mubarak still has a choice. It would be out of character, but he still could move towards genuine democracy and step down. I’m not at all optimistic about that possibility, but it’s worth remembering the story of King Juan Carlos of Spain, who could have ruled the country as dictator Francisco Franco’s hand-picked successor but instead pushed for a genuine transition to democracy. I don’t mean to say Egypt is like Spain (it’s not, and these sorts of analogies can sometimes do more harm then good), but it’s worth noting that not all of these stories end badly. As Andrew Sullivan would say, know hope.

UPDATE 44, Friday 7:35 p.m. EST: Cell phone and BlackBerry service seems to have been restored in Egypt, according to NBC’s Richard Engel.

UPDATE 45, 10:00 a.m. EST Saturday: It’s 5 p.m. in Cario. Here’s the latest:

  • Cairo fell into what the Washington Post describes as “near anarchy” today, as tens of thousands of protesters flooded the streets “largely unchallenged by police.”
  • Ahmad Ezz, a top official in the ruling NDP party, has just resigned, and a curfew set for 4 p.m. local time (9:00 a.m. EST) was widely ignored.
  • In China, the government has blocked Twitter searches for the term “Egypt.”
  • A group of protesters attempted to storm the headquarters of the Ministry of Interior and were repelled by security forces, leaving at least three dead, according to Al Jazeera.
  • Protests in Yemen continued as well.
  • The New York Times has a great interactive map of the protests throughout Egypt.
  • Al Jazeera reports that protesters in Alexandria who caught police officers looting have turned them over to the Army.
  • Peter Daou notes on Twitter that “based on casualty figures reported today, it appears Egypt’s protests are already deadlier than Iran’s Green Revolution.”
  • Elliott Abrams, of course, says this all proves George W. Bush was right.
  • Here, via Twitter, is a photo of the human chain protecting Egypt’s National Museum from looting:

UPDATE 46, Saturday 10:25 a.m. EST: Omar Suleiman, the head of Egyptian intelligence, has been sworn in as Egypt’s first Vice President in 30 years. Think tanker Andrew Exum warns “this will solve nothing.” And Foreign Policy‘s Marc Lynch makes the somewhat counterintuitive argument that Obama has actually been handling the Egypt crisis pretty well.

UPDATE 47, Saturday 10:30 a.m. EST: Andrew Exum has a great list of “people who might actually know what the &*^& they’re talking about” with regards to Egypt. Also, if you’re not watching Al Jazeera English’s live feed, you should be.

UPDATE 48, Saturday 10:40 a.m. EST/5:40 p.m. Cairo: Al Jazeera has two important updates: Protesters are trying to storm the Interior Ministry again, despite being repelled (with loss of life) earlier today; and (via Sultan Al Qassemi) Gamal and Alaa Mubarak, Mubarak’s sons, have arrived in London with their families.

UPDATE 49, Saturday 11:00 a.m. EST/6:00 p.m. Cairo: Al Jazeera reports that Ahmad Shafeeq, the former civil aviation minister, has been named Prime Minister. You’ve got to love how Mubarak thinks a cabinet reshuffle is going to end the protests. In related news, the US has already said Mubarak can’t just “shuffle the deck.”

UPDATE 50, Saturday 12:10 p.m. EST/7:10 p.m. Cairo: Looting is becoming an increasingly significant problem throughout Cairo and other cities. Even the Egypt Museum, which had been protected by a human chain of protesters, was briefly invaded by looters before security forces responded. Al Jazeera just reported that the Army is going to move more aggressively to restore security in Cairo. Both sides are trying to blame each other for the looting. The Egyptian Army has published a hotline number to call for help or report looting: 19614.

UPDATE 51, Saturday 12:40 p.m. EST: My colleague Ashley Bates has the remarkable story of two Israeli activists who joined in the protests in Egypt earlier this week.

UPDATE 52, Saturday 1:00 p.m. EST/8:00 p.m. Cairo: Mohamed ElBaradei just gave a live press conference on Al Jazeera. (UPDATE: I’m actually not sure this was live, but it was today: he refers to Mubarak’s speech as “yesterday” around the 4:10 mark.) Highlights: “The Egyptian State is collapsing. President Mubarak is refusing to listen to the people.” “It is time for him to step down. We are seeking a new regime. I wish him to understand he should step down today.” “I respect [new Vice President] Omar Suleiman and [new Prime Minister] Ahmad Shafik but we want an end to this Pharaonic regime not a change of some faces.” “The whole world should realize that the Egyptians have risen up: they are not going home unless their requests are realized.” “A coalition government must be formed, with a new democratic constitution that the people can vote on in an referendum.” “I do not think [Mubarak] has gotten the message.” “The Egyptian people will remember who stood by them & who stood by the regime when it falls.” “The army’s role isn’t to administer Egypt, Egypt’s leader must be someone who is elected by the people.” To the Egyptian Army: “You should take the side of the people, not the side of the tyrants.” “Let’s not trick ourselves, the regime & the world must understand that the Egyptians have revolted.” “I am not satisfied with the international reaction. They cannot hold the stick from the centre in this case.” “I call for the president to step down, today, not tomorrow.”

UPDATE 53, Saturday 1:15 p.m. EST: Ahmed Zewail, an Egyptian scientist (and Nobel laureate), just spoke to Al Arabiya. Here are some highlights, via Sultan Al Qassemi’s Twitter feed: “I have pain & hope at this time. The Egyptians are not protesting under any religious or ideological banners.” “The regime is behind the deterioration of Egypt. Rigging elections has caused Egyptians to lose trust in the government.” “I demand that a committee is formed, we can turn this anger into hope to return Egypt to greatness.” “I tell Mubarak, Egypt is burning. There must be a solution. There must be an end to this regime.” “Corruption has become endemic here. Corruption has become the daily currency in Egypt.” “Education has been the issue in every household in Egypt. Science & research has reached the lowest levels, Egypt deserves better.” “A new constitution must be built on freedom and the respect of human rights and the peaceful transition of power.”

UPDATE 54, Saturday 1:30 p.m. EST: Here’s a video from Al Jazeera showing a dead protester’s body being carried through the Cairo streets earlier today:

UPDATE 55, Saturday 2:15 p.m. EST: Blake Hounshell, the managing editor of Foreign Policy, tweets “I don’t know any credible Egypt hands who think Hosni will survive much longer” as President. Since Foreign Policy is near the heart of the American foreign policy establishment, that’s a meaningful statement. Also, how about this image from Reddit:

If you don’t get the reference, that’s a Guy Fawkes mask superimposed on the Sphinx King Tut. On the internet, the symbolism has more connection to the movie V for Vendetta than the actual historical figure.

UPDATE 56, Saturday 2:35 p.m. EST: Something you should definitely know: Omar Suleiman, the new Egyptian vice president, reportedly coordinated the Egyptian end of the Bush administration’s program of rendition and torture of terrorism suspects. Suleiman was “not squeamish,” according to Edward Walker, the former US ambassador to Egypt.

UPDATE 57, Saturday 3:10 p.m. EST (Siddhartha Mahanta): Al Jazeera’s Marwan Bishara on what the Egyptian military’s next moves could be, and what the White House needs to consider moving forward: “The Obama administration continued its predecessor’s policy of nurturing contacts and consultation with various Egyptian opposition groups in addition to the military. It understands all too well that the response of the Egyptian military will have far reaching influence, not only on the situation in Egypt, but also on other countries in the region, no less on its future relationship with Israel.”

UPDATE 58, Saturday 3:45 p.m. EST: Brookings’ Shadi Hamid has an excellent column on the potential economic impacts of the unrest in Egypt. Bottom line: “Democracy—with the accountability, popular legitimacy and peaceful resolution of conflict it so often brings—is the only avenue to long-term stability.” And here’s some remarkable video of Egyptian Army forces preventing police from clearing protesters from a street near Cairo’s Liberation Square:

Finally, Andrew Exum has some tongue-in-cheek constructive criticism for protesters.

UPDATE 59, Saturday 4:20 p.m. EST (Siddhartha Mahanta): Looters who stormed Cairo’s Egyptian Museum, located to the center of the protests and adjacent to the ruling National Democratic Party headquarters, have reportedly been destroying pharoahic mummies. Al Arabiya television showed soldiers, armed and in battle fatigues, patrolling the museum, which also houses most of the King Tutankhamen collection. Here’s video:

UPDATE 60, Saturday 4:25 p.m. EST: Al Jazeera English just showed some fascinating video of young men in an upscale neighborhood of Cairo taking to the street to try to stop looters. They’re checking cars and monitoring traffic, but another Al Jazeera reporter is on now stating the obvious: young, untrained youths aren’t necessarily the best way to provide security. The reporter warned that when she was walking back to the AJ bureau with her camera crew, they were confronted by a neighborhood watch group and accused of looting. The situation almost got violent, she said.

UPDATE 61, Saturday 4:35 p.m. EST: A Muslim Brotherhood spokesman is on Al Jazeera English right now calling for a new, interim government and the dissolution of the parliament. He wants the new government to be run by the head of the Constitutional Court. He is also calling for Mubarak to step down and for the scrapping of the infamous emergency laws (in place for three decades). He also notes that the Brotherhood was “not totally absent.” “The massive rallies of the people cannot be reduced to one political party or one political bloc.” “We as a Muslim movement seek to establish democracy, justice, and freedom in Egypt.” “All that we are seeking is to have our people who were forcibly detained be released…. all the political detainees who sacrificed their freedom for Egypt’s freedom.”

UPDATE 62, Saturday 5:30 p.m. EST: It’s Sunday already in Cairo, but tens of thousands of protesters are still in the streets. Al Jazeera is reporting that 19 private jets carrying top Egyptian businessmen and their families have just departed from Cairo. And the New York Times just published a story datelined from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland: “Arab Executives Predict Regime Change in Egypt.” I’ll have my own report on the Egypt talk in Davos shortly.

UPDATE 63, Saturday 5:40 p.m. EST: Two reports of note: Al Arabiya says 5000 prisoners have escaped from Fayoum prison. Mohamed El-Batran, the top general at the prison, has reportedly been killed. Also, there are multiple reports of a sniper firing live ammunition from the top of the Ministry of Information building in central Cairo.

UPDATE 64, Saturday 5:55 p.m. EST: I recently spoke via phone to an American CEO who is attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. (For those who don’t know, it’s basically a Woodstock for big-shot CEOs, world leaders, dignitaries, and so on.) That person detailed some of the Egypt-related discussions that have dominating the past few days of the conference. Here are my notes (edited for clarity) on the conversation:

I spoke to a private banker from Bahrain (who was also talking to [New York Times columnist] Tom Friedman) and he said the big picture is that almost everybody thinks Mubarak is gone, but the question is, is it a week, a month, or six months. Then the question becomes, there have never really been campaigns in Egypt or organized parties. What happens when you have the Muslim Brotherhood, the communists? No one really knows what the people really want, because [they’ve never had free elections before].

Even the smartest people are pretty confused about what’s going to happen. What is so weird about this is how much more uncertainty there is…. People feel that if there was time for democracy to take hold and have fair elections, there’s a fair amount of optimism, but if someone [malicious] took control in the short run, there’d be a lot of problems. 

The Middle-Eastern stock markets are thrashing. A fund manager in emerging markets [said] this morning he pressed the sell button on everything he owns, but he felt people forgot about the risk inherent in emerging markets. He thinks there are going to be shock waves in all emerging markets because this is going to remind everyone about instability.

[The fund manager also] said this is mostly about food prices. Because so much outside capital had been flowing in, wages weren’t going up, and there was a fair amount of food and oil price inflation…. People are starving and hungry…. It’s a revolution driven by hunger as much as anything else…. They’re desperate, and they have nothing left to lose.

So that’s the view from Davos. You have to love how Tom Friedman gets a shout-out in the first sentence, right?

UPDATE 65, Saturday 6:20 p.m. EST (Siddhartha Mahanta): Unconfirmed reports say that the Muslim Brotherhood is collaborating with Hamas to increase their roles in Egypt, says global intelligence firm Stratfor. Hamas controls the Gaza Strip in the Palestinian Territories. The Brotherhood, reports say, “is picking up the pieces left by President Hosni Mubarak’s police force by forming committees to protect public property,” and that as Egypt’s border with Israel becomes unguarded, Hamas soldiers are moving in and looking to team up with the Brotherhood.

UPDATE 66, Saturday 6:30 p.m. EST: On Twitter, Omar Waraich notes this hilarious exchange between CNN host Wolf Blitzer and journalist (and sometime Mother Jones contributor) Peter Bergen: “Wolf Blitzer’s first question to Peter Bergen: ‘Where does al-Qaeda fit in all of this?’ Bergen replied, ‘Not at all.'” Also, Time has published a little-noticed report that Bedouin tribal leaders claim to be in control of “the two towns closest to the Gaza Strip.” Time’s source, a “prominent Bedouin smuggler in the Sinai,” said the Bedouin “planned to press on to attack the Suez Canal if Mubarak does not step down,” and added that “police stations in the south Sinai would be attacked if Bedouin prisoners were not released.” 

UPDATE 67, Saturday 6:35 p.m. EST: As noted in Update 56, Egypt’s new vice president, Omar Suleiman, was deeply involved in the Bush administration’s rendition and torture program. Jane Mayer, the New Yorker journalist who literally wrote the book on that program, has posted on that magazine’s blog explaining the connection in detail.

UPDATE 68, Saturday 6:52 p.m. EST (Siddhartha Mahanta): As suggested by updates 65 and 66, the revolution will not be self-contained: the chaos in Egypt is bubbling over into Gaza. Palestinians in Gaza get most of their fuel from the blackmarket, through a labyrinthine array of tunnels and pipes that link the strip with Egypt’s Sinai peninsula. The LA Times reports that gasoline smuggling into the Palestinian territories has been disrupted, inciting panic that the supply could dry up completely. Hamas officials are doing their best to assuage their concerns. But it’s done little to stanch the rush to the pumps.

UPDATE 69, Saturday 8:20 p.m. EST (Siddhartha Mahanta): Hamas’ interior ministry says that the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt is under the control of Gaza security forces, reports Xinhua news service. Hamas also denies that Gazans have broken into Egyptian territories. But witnesses in the southern Gazan town of Rafah, near the Egyptian border, say they heard the sounds of explosions and gunfire on the Egyptian side of the borders. Xinhua also reports that Palestinian-run news agency Wafa says that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas telephoned his Egyptian counterpart Hosni Mubarak, affirming his government’s interests in keeping Egypt stable.

UPDATE 70, Sunday 4:30 a.m. EST (Monika Bauerlein) Al Jazeera’s Dan Nolan tweets that according to Egyptian state TV, the channel’s Cairo bureau is being closed and its reporters’ licenses revoked. Al Jazeera’s most recent report says things are tense across Cairo, with military tanks and armored vehicles blocking major roads throughout the capital, especially streets leading to Tahrir Square, the demonstrators’ focal point. This could signal an imminent crackdown, or an effort to remove the protests’ oxygen.

UPDATE 71, Sunday 8:30 a.m. EST (Daniel Schulman) Al Jazeera has released a statement on the closure of its bureau:

Al Jazeera sees this as an act designed to stifle and repress the freedom of reporting by the network and its journalists.

In this time of deep turmoil and unrest in Egyptian society it is imperative that voices from all sides be heard; the closing of our bureau by the Egyptian government is aimed at censoring and silencing the voices of the Egyptian people. 

Al Jazeera assures its audiences in Egypt and across the world that it will continue its in-depth and comprehensive reporting on the events unfolding in Egypt.

The Israeli government, meanwhile, has broken its silence on Egypt, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commenting that Israel is “anxiously monitoring” the situation on the ground. “Our efforts are designed to continue and maintain stability and security in our region. I remind you that the peace between Israel and Egypt has endured for over three decades and our goal is to ensure that these relations continue,” he said.

UPDATE 72, Sunday 9:20 a.m. EST (Daniel Schulman): Yikes. Iraq has offered to evac its citizens living in Egypt, many of whom fled there due to Iraq’s tenous security situation and frequent violence.

UPDATE 73, Sunday 10:00 a.m. EST/5:00 p.m. Cairo: The US State Department has called for an “peaceful, orderly transition that leads to fair elections” in Egypt. Foreign Policy‘s Mark Lynch says the statement is “strong” and signals a “shift in tone,” but a “regime seeking wiggle room might find it,” and he hopes Mubarak and the military are “hearing the strong part.” Fighter jets have reportedly buzzed Cairo’s Tahrir Square, where at least 50,000 people are gathered, according to news reports. But perhaps most important is the news (via Al Hurra, the US-backed Arab satellite channel/Al Jazeera rival) that the Army has arrested Habib Al Adly, the widely despised Interior Minister. (Here’s a screen grab, via Sultan al Qassemi. It will only really be useful to Arabic speakers.) 

UPDATE 74, Sunday 10:02 a.m. EST (Daniel Schulman) Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is making back-to-back appearances on the morning talk shows. On CNN, when asked what side the US government was on, Mubarak’s or the protestors on the street, Clinton said: “We are on the side, as we have been for more than 30 years, of a democratic Egypt that provides both political and economic rights to its people, that respects the universal human rights of all Egyptians.” She told Fox: “We have been very clear that we we want to see a transition to democracy and we want to see the kind of steps taken that will bring that about.”

UPDATE 75, Sunday 10:05 a.m. EST/5:05 p.m. Cairo: As suggested in Update 70 and 71, Al Jazeera is continuing its great reporting from Egypt despite an official ban. In other important news, the Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition groups have backed Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) (and an Egyptian Nobel laureate) as their lead negotiator with the regime

UPDATE 76, Sunday 10:12 a.m. EST (Daniel Schulman) On CNN, Mohamed ElBaradei tells Fareed Zakaria that Mubarak’s appointment of Omar Suleiman and attempt to convene a new government is a “hopeless, desperate attempt by Mubarak to stay in power. I think it is loud and clear from everyone in Egypt that he has to leave today. This is non-negotiable.” He adds, “If he wants to save his skin, if he has an iota of patriotism, I urge him to leave the country today.” Asked whether he’s interested in replacing Mubarak as president, ElBaradei replied: “I am wiling to do whatever I can do to save this country… If the Egyptian people want me to serve as a bridge… I will not let them down.”

UPDATE 77, Sunday 10:35 a.m. EST: Amr Moussa, the head of the transnational Arab League (and a former Egyptian foreign minister) said Sunday that he hoped “we would reach that point (of) a multi-party system and that democracy is in full train, it offers different opportunities, creates different opportunities.” Moussa emphasized that he did not see himself as a candidate for president.

UPDATE 78, Sunday 10:55 a.m. EST: Al Arabiya reports that ElBaradei is on his way to address the crowds in Cairo’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square, where around 100,000 protesters have gathered. And here, via ProPublica’s Eric Umansky, is a recent Al Jazeera English audio dispatch: “Live shots are no longer allowed.” 

UPDATE 79, Sunday 11:05 a.m. EST: Haaretz and Al Jazeera report that ElBaradei plans to announce the formation of an alternative unity opposition government. 

UPDATE 80, Sunday 12:00 p.m. EST/7:00 p.m. Cairo: ElBaradei to the crowd: “What we have begun cannot go back.” (via Reuters)

UPDATE 81, Sunday 12:20 p.m. EST: It’s unclear how ElBaradei is going to be able to give a speech: there doesn’t seem to be a microphone or anything that he could use to project his voice. An Al Jazeera correspondent makes a good point: many of the signs in the square are in English, meaning that they are directed at the broadest possible audience (including the West and the US government, especially). Also, Shadi Hamid points out that as long as ElBaradei is in the square, it will be hard for the military to crack down. Finally, the Egyptian foreign ministry has released a statement saying Egypt will re-evaluate its relationships with other countries after the protests end, but that “latest events have shown who is the real friend of Egypt and who is not.” UPDATE: Al Jazeera is now reporting that ElBaradei is not feeling well and is leaving the square. No confirmation of that. Plus Al Arabiya says Egyptian police will be returning to the streets tomorrow and will attempt to restore security everywhere except Tahrir (Liberation) Square.

UPDATE 82, Sunday 12:40 p.m. EST: Looks like that earlier Al Jazeera report was wrong, the Reuters report was right, and ElBaradei found a megaphone:

Blake Hounshell notes that Osama al-Ghazali Harb, a former ruling party official, was standing next to ElBaradei. Highlights of the speech: “Fellow Egyptians, today you must recapture your rights. What we have started will never be turned back again.” “We have a key demand: for the regime to step down and begin a new era.”

UPDATE 83, Sunday 1:50 p.m. EST (Daniel Schulman): Just posted, an eyewitness account from an American living in Cairo: “I saw an old woman shot in the face yesterday…”

UPDATE 84, Sunday 3:15 p.m. EST: President Barack Obama called several world leaders yesterday and today to talk over the situation in Egypt. Here’s the White House statement:

On Saturday, January 29th, the President spoke to Prime Minister (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan of Turkey, Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu of Israel, and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Today, he spoke to Prime Minister (David) Cameron of the United Kingdom.

During his calls, the President reiterated his focus on opposing violence and calling for restraint; supporting universal rights, including the right to peaceful assembly, association, and speech; and supporting an orderly transition to a government that is responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people.

The President asked each of the leaders that he spoke to for their assessment of the situation, and agreed to stay in close contact going forward.

Here’s a great photo from @arabist of a protester in Cairo’s Tahrir Square with a suggestion for ending the protests:

UPDATE 85, Sunday 4:00 p.m. EST/11:00 p.m. Cairo: Ayman Nour, an opposition politician, spoke to Al Jazeera earlier this hour. Here’s a rough transcript of his remarks via Sultan al Qassemi:

We have formed an opposition committee for change that involves ten members, represented by El Baradei. Our key demand is for Mubarak to step down, we will negotiate with the army, we will negotiate with other opposition members. We are not asking for an (army) coup. We are asking the army to take the side of the people not the side of the tyrant. This govt has not communicated with the opposition party until the last minute, they will be forced to negotiate with us. Today was the first session of the People’s Popular Parliament which includes El Baradei, Mohammed El Beltaji, myself, [other members], Justice Mahmoud El Khodairi, George Ishaq, Mr Abu Al Ezz. It is a ten member committee. This committee will have the duty to manage the crisis. We will negotiate in order to improve the security conditions in the country. We want all the resolutions issued by Mubarak since January to be revoked & invalidated. We are not negotiating with Mubarak since our main demand is for him to step down. We will negotiate with the army. The army’s duty is to defend the country not the oppressor who has been ruling by an iron fist. All the rallies ask him to step down. We ask the army not to play a political role. We ask it to defend & safeguard the security, stability of the country. People were wreaking havoc, chaos & looting around including the undercover police personnel. We have arrested many of them and found that they were carrying police identity cards. They were looting around, intimidating people. Therefore people are now adamant about toppling of the regime. We will negotiate a peaceful exit for Mubarak for the sake of Egypt.

UPDATE 86, Sunday 4:15 p.m. EST/11:15 p.m. Cairo: Saturday Night Live did a pretty good job making fun of Hosni Mubarak last night. Mubarak makes an “appearance” around 1:10 in the video:

UPDATE 87, Sunday 4:44 p.m. EST/11:44 p.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): Hamas has closed Gaza’s southern border, after warnings from Israel that the chaos in Egypt threatens to increase the smuggling of weapons into the Palestinian territories. “Egypt is our ally in preventing the flow of arms, and on the assumption that Egyptian forces are occupied [with the unrest], Hamas and its allies could be exploiting that situation,” an Israeli official told the Guardian. “That is our immediate concern.” Fears that fuel pumps in Gaza could go dry (as mentioned in Update 68) have been realized, as most tunnels used for smuggling commercial goods have been closed. But Gazans like Yousef Mardi don’t seem to mind: “Even though we are suffering, we have to support what they are doing (in Egypt). They are poor like us. We understand what they’re going through,” he told the Guardian. The border closure is expected to last for several days.

UPDATE 88, Sunday 5:05 p.m. EST/12:05 a.m. Monday in Cairo: The Arabist has a video of an Army general speaking somewhat sympathetically to protesters. The Los Angeles Times reports that the US is “quietly preparing” for a post-Mubarak Egypt. And a group of academics has written a letter (PDF) to President Obama asking him to toughen the US stance against Mubarak:

January 30, 2010

Dear President Obama:

As political scientists, historians, and researchers in related fields who have studied the Middle East and U.S. foreign policy, we the undersigned believe you have a chance to move beyond rhetoric to support the democratic movement sweeping over Egypt. As citizens, we expect our president to uphold those values.

For thirty years, our government has spent billions of dollars to help build and sustain the system the Egyptian people are now trying to dismantle. Tens if not hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in Egypt and around the world have spoken. We believe their message is bold and clear: Mubarak should resign from office and allow Egyptians to establish a new government free of his and his family’s influence. It is also clear to us that if you seek, as you said Friday “political, social, and economic reforms that meet the aspirations of the Egyptian people,” your administration should publicly acknowledge those reforms will not be advanced by Mubarak or any of his adjutants.

There is another lesson from this crisis, a lesson not for the Egyptian government but for our own. In order for the United States to stand with the Egyptian people it must approach Egypt through a framework of shared values and hopes, not the prism of geostrategy. On Friday you rightly said that “suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away.” For that reason we urge your administration to seize this chance, turn away from the policies that brought us here, and embark on a new course toward peace, democracy and prosperity for the people of the Middle East. And we call on you to undertake a comprehensive review of US foreign policy on the major grievances voiced by the democratic opposition in Egypt and all other societies of the region.

UPDATE 89, Sunday 7:40 p.m. EST/2:40 a.m. Monday in Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): Jeff Goldberg speculates: what happens if the Muslim Brotherhood comes out on top?

The Muslim Brotherhood might not end up in power; just as in Pakistan, the Islamists in Egypt represent only a minority of citizens. Which is not to say that the Brotherhood couldn’t wind up in power, but it’s too early to call the rise of the Brotherhood inevitable. If the Brothers do end up in power, then the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, which is responsible for 30 years of stability in the eastern Mediterranean, would be in mortal danger, but even if Egypt were to break relations with Israel, this does not mean that war would necessarily follow. And what is more likely is that the Egyptian Army continues to play an important and stabilizing role, and the Egyptian Army, of course, depends on the United States for much of its budget, and it does not want to lose access to American-made weapons systems, which is what might happen if Egypt were to abrogate the peace treaty.

In any case, the “stability” created in the Middle East by autocratic regimes is an illusion, as we’ve learned again and again. There is ultimately no alternative to freedom and self-government. As Elliott Abrams has noted, the Arab world is not exceptional in this regard. I’ve gone back and forth on this question any number of times, but ultimately I have to come down on the side of people like Reuel Gerecht, who argue that the imposition of ostensibly pro-Western autocrats on Muslim populations leads to nothing good in the end. If President Bush had carried through his worthy freedom agenda (and if President Obama had picked up the standard of democratic change) Hosni Mubarak might have long ago been convinced to seek retirement before his people sought it for him, and today we would be watching orderly elections in Egypt in which the Muslim Brotherhood represented one choice among many, and not images of Cairo on fire.

UPDATE 90, Monday 9:40 a.m. EST/4:40 p.m. Cairo: The latest:

  • Al Jazeera had several of its journalists detained around 2:15 p.m local time (7:15 a.m. EST) today. They were released about 90 minutes later.
  • Syrian authorities are reportedly “jubilant” over the prospect of Mubarak’s fall and a potential power shift in the region.
  • The Times has a report about how unrest in Egypt is “unsettling global markets.”
  • Dissent‘s Feisal Mohamed emails to suggest a link to this old Dissent interview about what sort of role the Muslim Brotherhood might play in a democratic Egypt.

UPDATE 91, Monday 11:00 a.m. EST/6:00 p.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): What do you do with $1.3 billion dollars? That’s how much the US gives to Egypt each year. Over in the Danger Room, Spencer Ackerman’s got a thorough rundown of the weaponry the Egyptian army buys from the United States, paid for largely with US aid money. Since 1977’s US-brokered Camp David Peace Accords between Egypt and Israel, Egypt has been America’s second largest arms purchaser. The lethal toys have included:

  • 1,000 M1A1 Abrams tanks
  • “Made in America”-stamped tear gas canisters
  • 220 F-16s
  • systems like Patriot air-defense missiles, multiple launch rocket system rocket pods, and anti-armor missiles

To its credit, the army—whose officers are trained at American war colleges—has, mostly, refrained from firing on protestors.

UPDATE 92, Monday 11:40 a.m. EST/6:40 p.m. Cairo: Protesters are still out in force, by the way. Here’s a Al Arabiya screengrab (via Twitter) of the scene in Cairo’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square earlier today:

UPDATE 93, Monday 1:10 p.m. EST/8:10 p.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): Must-watch video, posted to Facebook, of an Egyptian tank ramming over protesters.

UPDATE 94, Monday 2:00 p.m. EST/9:00 p.m. Cairo: The Egyptian Army has reportedly released a statement saying it “will not use force against the people.” This may probably embolden protesters in advance of especially massive marches planned for tomorrow, but as The Atlantic‘s Max Fisher notes, “it is far from a guarantee that the protesters will overcome security forces, which have already used live fire on protesters.” Reuters has more details, including a partial transcript:

The presence of the army in the streets is for your sake and to ensure your safety and wellbeing. The armed forces will not resort to use of force against our great people. Your armed forces, who are aware of the legitimacy of your demands and are keen to assume their responsibility in protecting the nation and the citizens, affirms that freedom of expression through peaceful means is guaranteed to everybody.

UPDATE 95, Monday 2:10 p.m. EST/9:10 p.m. Cairo: “A team of heavily armed Marine Corps security personnel have been sent to the U.S. Embassy in Cairo to provide additional security,” CNN reports. The US does not want a repeat of what happened shortly after the Iranian Revolution, when militants seized the US embassy in Tehran and held 52 Americans hostage for over a year.

UPDATE 96, Monday 3:00 p.m. EST/10:00 p.m. Cairo: Two nice items of reporting from National Journal‘s Marc Ambinder: first, he says that the US is conducting backchannel talks with the Muslim Brotherhood through the Egyptian Army. Second, Ambinder asked the White House if they’ve “asked the Egyptians to stop torturing people.” The official response was “no comment.” Finally, The Atlantic‘s Jeff Goldberg reproduces some recent anti-US and anti-Israel statements by the Brotherhood’s leader. 

UPDATE 97, Monday 4:30 p.m. EST/11:30 p.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): Foreign Policy‘s Josh Rogin has the latest on the White House’s plan for a post-Mubarak Egypt. The bottom line: the Obama administration doesn’t expect the strong man to last much longer. But Rogin also reports that Obama doesn’t want the White House’s fingerprints on the transition to a new government. “We can’t be seen as picking a winner. We can’t be seen as telling a leader to go,” said Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes at a meeting between some of Obama’s top national security advisers and regional experts. The White House still hasn’t indicated whether it backs an opposition leader like ElBaradei. Meanwhile, it’s also not ready to place any bets on new Vice President Omar Suleiman.

UPDATE 98, Monday 4:55 p.m. EST/11:55 p.m. Cairo: The internet is down throughout Egypt again today, probably in anticipation of especially huge protests and confrontations planned for tomorrow. Mobile phone service is expected to be cut off as well (some networks already seem to be down). Also, check out this State Department cable from December 30, 2008 (via Wikileaks) concluding that the prospect of regime change in Egypt was “highly unrealistic.”

UPDATE 99, Monday 6:50 p.m. EST/1:50 a.m. Cairo (Ashley Bates): African refugees in Cairo continue to sit out the protests. I called a few in Egypt to find out why. “I don’t know any Sudanese who are participating,” said Abdel Raheem, a 28-year-old Sudanese Cairo resident who asked that only his first and middle name be used. While refugees hope that the protests will bring a new government that is more sympathetic to their plight, they harbor grave concerns that, in the short term, Egypt will descend into chaos. “Refugees are running from turmoil and unrest. They came here for protection.,” said S.H., a Somali refugee who cautiously ventured outside on Sunday to watch the demonstrations from a safe distance. He added sadly, “[Refugees] know what can happen when things get out of control.” More here.

UPDATE 100, Tuesday, February 1, 10:00 a.m. EST/5:00 p.m. Cairo: The immediately breaking news is reports of 100 dead in Alexandria, Egypt’s second-largest city, in the wake of perhaps the largest day of protests yet. Also happening today:

UPDATE 101, Tuesday, February 1, 10:50 a.m. EST/5:50 p.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): The Sunlight Foundation has painted a detailed picture of just how cozy the US government is with the Mubarak regime. The DC-based campaign watchdog has a detailed list of the contacts maintained by three of Washington’s most high-powered lobbying outfits—the Livingston Group, the Podesta Group, and the Moffett Group—on behalf of the Egyptian government. Together, the three lobbying shop operate as the PLM Group, Egypt’s officially registered three-headed lobbying dragon. Because PLM operates on behalf of a foreign country, they’re required to disclose their contacts with government and NGO officials. Sunlight compiled a database for all the contacts reported from January-July of 2010. The 366 contacts include diplomats, foreign aid officers, military officials, 61 lawmakers, and 141 congressional staffers.

UPDATE 102, Tuesday, February 1, 11:06 a.m. EST/6:06 p.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): Meanwhile, AFP reports that US ambassador to Cairo Margaret Scobey spoke on the phone with Mohamed El Baradei. According to a US official, Scobey outlined the US’ position on the crisis: that Washington wants a political transition, but will not determine how that transition happens. The official also said that this is the first contact Scobey and El Baradei have had since he returned to Egypt four days ago, and that this is part of her outreach to opposition leaders. The conversation comes a day after Washington sent former diplomat and envoy Frank Wisner to Egypt to meet with top officials.

UPDATE 103, Tuesday, February 1, 11:30 a.m. EST/6:30 p.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): The Council on Foreign Relations’ Steven Cook helps us figure out what to think about when we think about the Egyptian army. Its best bet, he says, is to adopt a wait and see approach: wait for Vice President Omar Suleiman to begin a smooth democratic transition, while seeing who rises to the top of the opposition movement. With the virtual demise of the ruling National Democratic Party and the exodus of Cairo’s business community in the wake of the chaos, only the military remains as a formidable force. Cook also briefly speculates that Suleiman, a master spy/torturer, is working to split the opposition using Egyptian intelligence services. And he isn’t surprised by the army’s pledge not to fire on the protestors—in part, because its top brass has always viewed keeping the peace on the streets as the Interior Ministry’s jobs. But there’s more:

[T]he declaration about restraint also has to do with internal military dynamics. There is a split in the armed forces between the senior command on the one hand and junior officers and recruits on the other who would refuse to fire on protestors. This has long been the Achilles heel of the Egyptian military. [The] senior people never know whether those people below them will follow orders. As a result, rather than risking breaking the army, the military will not use lethal force to put down the protests.

UPDATE 104, Tuesday, Feb. 1, 11:45 a.m. EST/6:45 p.m Cairo: Earlier this hour, I spoke to two Egyptians in Alexandria, Egypt’s second-largest city, to get their views on the protests. The first works for the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (The “New Library of Alexandria”), and was fairly supportive of the Mubarak regime. Since he’s in a prominent position at a prominent institution, that’s not hugely surprising, but it’s worth noting that Ismail Serageldin, the Librarian of Alexandria himself, has referred to protesters’ “justified demands for more freedom, more democracy, lower prices for necessities and more employment opportunities.” Anyway, the person I spoke to said he thinks Mubarak is a “very wise President” and “will do what is best for the country.” He also blamed looting on the poor, and suggested police had misunderstood orders and there had only been a “six-hour” window of chaos between when the police stood down on Friday and when the Army stepped in. That’s inconsistent with other reports I’ve seen, which suggest that at least some of the looters were themselves affiliated with security forces, and that looting and chaos reigned throughout Cairo, Alexandria, and much of Egypt for several days. But make of it what you will.

The other person I spoke to, a prominent Egyptian performer, was much more anti-Mubarak (he also spoke better English, so I have more direct quotes). He claimed that millions of protesters were in the streets of Alexandria today (Al Jazeera says “hundreds of thousands,”) and joined the Library official in denying that anyone had been hurt or killed. He explained that protesters are concentrated near the main train station in Alexandria, and that a group of protesters is “protecting” the library from any potential danger (looting, fire, etc…). He also explained that the library is one of the few places in the country that still has internet access, so he has been able to get online for about 15 minutes a day. He deeply admired the speech Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan made earlier today (See Update 100) calling for Mubarak to leave. And he said he believed that any post-Mubarak regime that came to power would abide by Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. Highlights: “Nobody is talking about any more wars. We will not fight Israel. Nobody thinks to fight Israel again…. Israel must be safe, we know that, we understand that.” “The tyrant’s regime is trying to tell Obama and the US admin that the Muslim Brotherhood is the protesters. They’re not even five percent of the demonstrations. [Regime officials are] liars.” “I want to speak to the White House: Please, please remove this tyrant from Egypt, to save Egyptians’ blood. Save our blood please.” The marches, he said, are only “increasing.” “Friday will be a black Friday, a big disaster, if [Mubarak] stays.” 

UPDATE 105, Tuesday, Feb. 1, 11:55 a.m. EST: Egyptian hospitals have confirmed to Human Rights Watch that Egyptian security forces were among the looters that terrorized Cairo over the weekend. And National Journal‘s Marc Ambinder has a behind-the-scenes narrative of how the White House’s strategy for dealing with the crisis evolved.

UPDATE 106, Tuesday, Feb. 1, 12:40 p.m. EST (Siddhartha Mahanta): An image from the million-man march in Tahrir Square:

UPDATE 107, Tuesday, Feb. 1, 12:55 p.m. EST (Siddhartha Mahanta): Media Matters has compiled a list of confusing things right-wingers have said about President Obama’s reactions to the protests. Everyone from Dick Morris to John Boehner has weighed in; but the commentariat remains bizarrely divided on whether Obama’s been too soft or too tough on Mubarak. Meanwhile, Mother JonesJaeah Lee writes that cell phone operators like the UK-based Vodafone may have selectively cut off phone access for human rights defenders, lawyers, and political activists since the protests began. Also from Mother Jones, Emily Loftis gives a round-up of Mubarak’s many human rights abuses, including torture, kidnapping reporters, and encouraging the rape of homosexuals.

UPDATE 108, Tuesday, Feb. 1, 1:52 p.m. EST (Siddhartha Mahanta): Al Arabiya tweets that Mubarak will give another speech today, announcing that he will not run in the upcoming elections. Why? Because President Obama told him not to, reports The New York Times‘ Mark Landler. The message was delivered by Frank Wisner, the former diplomat who’s reportedly very close with Mubarak. “Mr. Wisner’s message…was not a blunt demand for Mr. Mubarak to step aside now, but firm counsel that he should make way for a reform process that would culminate in free and fair elections in September to elect a new Egyptian leader,” Landler writes, suggesting that the White House wants to maintain its stance of passive approval of the protests. Wisner will likely remain the administration’s point man in dealing with Mubarak’s likely political demise. Meanwhile, Marc Lynch tweets that Mubarak’s pledge not to run is “the next to last step before he runs out of gambits and is slowly led out the door.” The White House has yet to tip its hand in favor of any of the current opposition leaders, but its message to the current regime is stark: thanks for the memories, Hosni.

UPDATE 109, Tuesday, Feb. 1, 3:13 p.m. EST (Siddhartha Mahanta): The Muslim Brotherhood’s status in a post-Mubarak world is still up in the air. But file this report from the Jerusalem Post under “serious cause for concern”:

A leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt told the Arabic-language Iranian news network Al-Alam on Monday that he would like to see the Egyptian people prepare for war against Israel, according to the Hebrew-language business newspaper Calcalist.

Muhammad Ghannem reportedly told Al- Alam that the Suez Canal should be closed immediately, and that the flow of gas from Egypt to Israel should cease “in order to bring about the downfall of the Mubarak regime.” He added that “the people should be prepared for war against Israel,” saying the world should understand that “the Egyptian people are prepared for anything to get rid of this regime.”

UPDATE 110, Tuesday, Feb. 1, 4:15 p.m. EST (Siddhartha Mahanta): It’s official: Mubarak won’t run for re-election, and will use his remaining time in office to ensure a peaceful transition to democracy, he announced in a speech on Egyptian state TV just after 11pm Cairo time. “It isn’t my nature to betray or abandon” my responsibilities, he said. “My top priority and responsibility is to restore the security and stability of the nation… to ensure the peaceful transition of power.” He also stressed the need to bring under control the rampant looting and arson that has accompanied the protests. And he promised that he would die on Egyptian soil, refusing to run into exile like now-deposed Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

UPDATE 111, Tuesday, Feb. 1, 5:10 p.m. EST (Siddhartha Mahanta): Mubarak’s announcement isn’t satisfying the Tahrir Square protestors, who, Al Jazeera reports, were heckling him during his speech. The Globe and Mail‘s Sonia Verma, reporting from the square, tweets “Nobody here says they will settle for an ‘inch’. They want the mile #egypt,” and “Demonstrators chanting ‘not enough’,” painting a pretty stark picture: Mubarak needs to go, not after September’s elections, but now.

UPDATE 112, Tuesday, Feb. 1, 5:22 p.m. EST (Siddhartha Mahanta): “What was a fairly peaceful gathering is no more”: Al Jazeera reports that Mubarak supporters are coming to blows with anti-Mubarak protestors in downtown Alexandria. Military tanks are keeping the peace as best they can, but shots have been fired. This is significant: till now, there’ve been no significant instances of pro-Mubarakism. And Al Jazeera also reports the appearance of  pro-Mubarak crowds in Tahrir Square in Cairo.  

UPDATE 113, Wednesday, Feb. 2, 10:17 a.m. EST/5:17 p.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): And now the backlash: following Mubarak’s address yesterday, clashes broke out between pro-Mubarak demonstrators and anti-protestors in Cairo.

  • Al Jazeera reports that protesters from both sides threw stones at each other in Tahrir Square. Thousands of pro-Mubarak crowd flooded the square after the embattled president’s speech, witnesses say. The army has constructed barricades around the square, but is allowing the Mubarak supporters in. More than 100 people were injured during the face off and ensuing stampede. Another Al Jazeera report says that men on horseback and camels, suspected of supporting Mubarak, have been streaming into the crowds to try to clamp down on protestors.
  • And CNN is reporting that tear gas has been fired near the entrance to the square. So far, all indications are that the Egyptian government wants to use the police to keep the peace, which explains why the army hasn’t reacted so far. CNN also says that the violence between the camps appears to be limited to Cairo.
  • The four major Egyptian internet service providers are back in business, reports the BBC.
  • Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh is feeling the heat. He’s decided not to run for re-election when his term ends in 2013, and has promised that his son, Ahmed, won’t run either. A key regional ally for the United States, Saleh has been in power for 32 years. This represents “a stunning concession to protesters and another reverberation of the popular anger that has rocked the Arab world in recent weeks,” says the New York Times. He’s also promised a host of reforms to Yemen’s electoral process. But the mostly Islamist opposition groups remain skeptical: Saleh has promised to leave before.

UPDATE 114, Wednesday, Feb. 2, 10:38 a.m. EST/5:38 p.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): Al Jazeera has just shown a tank rolling into Tahrir square, carrying what appear to be pro-government demonstrators. Regime supporters have been ascending buildings and dropping rocks, satellites—anything heavy—on protestors below.

UPDATE 115, Wednesday, Feb. 2, 10:50 a.m. EST/5:50 p.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): Military helicopters have been seen flying over the square, while smoke billows out of the museum. And Al Jazeera reports that the UN is estimating that around 500 people have been injured in today’s clashes so far. Emergency vehicles are trying to enter the square, but are having a tough time.

UPDATE 116, Wednesday, Feb. 2, 11:01 a.m. EST/6:01 p.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): Sonia Verma, reporting from Tahrir Square, tweets “Some pro-mubarak placards were pre-printed. This is not spontaneous #egypt” and “Mosques across the city are sending pro Mubarak messages.” Her tweets appear to confirm that the pro-Mubarak response—complete with club and knife-wielding, horse-and-camel riding thugs, as Al Jazeera has reported—was a carefully executed plan.

UPDATE 117, Wednesday, Feb. 2, 11:33 a.m. EST/6:33 p.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): Watch former Secretary of State James Baker on the Today Show, talking about the US’ options in the wake of Mubarak’s promise to leave office in September. Baker praised President Obama’s response to the chaos so far. “I think we’re doing very, very well right now,” he said. “[W]e have competing interests at stake here…the worst thing in the world would have been if the administration quickly pulled the rug out from under” Mubarak.

UPDATE 118, Wednesday, Feb. 2, 11:50 a.m. EST/6:50 p.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): AFP reports that at least 500 have been injured in Tahrir Square, with no sign of emergency medical help on the way.

UPDATE 119, Wednesday, Feb. 2, 12:30 p.m. EST/7:30 p.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): Tom Friedman draws some broader conclusions. “The peace treaty with a stable Egypt was the unspoken foundation for every geopolitical and economic policy in Israel for the last 35 years, and now it’s gone,” he writes today. “It’s as if Americans suddenly woke up and found both Mexico and Canada plunged into turmoil on the same day.” And Mubarak’s current mega-quagmire should serve as a warning for Israel and the never-ending peace process:

Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu of Israel is in danger of becoming the Mubarak of the peace process. Israel has never had more leverage vis-à-vis the Palestinians and never had more responsible Palestinian partners. But Netanyahu has found every excuse for not putting a peace plan on the table. The Americans know it. And thanks to the nasty job that Qatar’s Al Jazeera TV just did in releasing out of context all the Palestinian concessions — to embarrass the Palestinian leadership — it’s now obvious to all how far the Palestinians have come.

UPDATE 120, Wednesday, Feb. 2, 1:05 p.m. EST/8:05 p.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): Al Jazeera reports that the army has issued a statement over Egyptian state television, warning protestors to evacuate Tahrir Square because of concerns about armed intruders. Al Jazeera estimates that some 403 people have been injured in today’s violence, while sporadic gunfire and clashes near the museum continue.

UPDATE 121, Wednesday, Feb. 2, 1:38 p.m. EST/8:38 p.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): In today’s press briefing, Robert Gibbs reiterated the White House’s call for an end to the ongoing violence in Egypt, and that the time for transition is now. He stressed that if the Egyptian government is behind the violence, it must stop. “Voices and parties involved in this process as we move towards free and fair elections…but that process must begin now,” Gibbs said. “Many of these changes are going to have to happen on the ground in Egypt…it is clear that the Egyptian people need to see progress and change immediately.” Some members of the White House press corps have written a letter to the White House, requesting that the President speak to reporters and clarify his position on Mubarak and the future of the country. Gibbs said they will have a chance to ask the president questions when Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper visits Washington on Friday. Is cutting off foreign aid to Egypt on the table? “We will evaluate the actions of the government of Egypt in making and reviewing decisions about aid,” Gibbs said, suggesting that it is a viable option. As for recently deployed envoy Frank Wisner, Gibbs said that the diplomat will remain in the country.

UPDATE 122, Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2:28 p.m. EST/9:28 p.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): Just tweeted by NBC’s Richard Engel: “ Protesters gaining strength in tahrir . Hearing shouts of ‘leave leave!”

UPDATE 123, Wednesday, Feb. 2, 3:15 p.m. EST/10:15 p.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): On state television, Egypt’s health minister said that 611 people have been injured (so far) in today’s clashes in Tahrir square. And via CNN’s Ben Wedeman, The New York Times‘ The Lede reports that some of the pro-Mubarak demonstrators today work for government-supported companies and were ordered to attend the protests today.

UPDATE 124, Wednesday, Feb. 2, 3:43 p.m. EST/10:43 p.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): What you’re looking at: Pro-Mubarak demonstrators facing off against anti-government protestors in Tahrir Square:

UPDATE 125, Wednesday, Feb. 2, 4:02 p.m. EST/11:02 p.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): Wired.com’s The Danger Room reports that prominent Egyptian Facebook activist Ahmed Maher, 30, has been arrested. Maher leads the April 6 Youth, a solidarity group launched to support pro-democracy protests in Egypt. The group organizes mostly online, and draws on a network of activists who use social media to garner support, and to send their messages and grievances about Mubarak out to the world. Maher has played a crucial role in organizing the anti-government protests of the past week.

UPDATE 126, Wednesday, Feb. 2, 4:40 p.m. EST/11:40 p.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with nearly every US ambassador today at Foggy Bottom, and told them the obvious: events in Egypt have made their jobs a lot harder. “It goes without saying—but I will say it anyway—that this is a critical time for America’s global leadership,” Clinton told the ambassadors. “[W]e are all in uncharted territory, and that requires us to be more nimble, more innovative, and more accountable than ever before.” Over 200 ambassadors are in Washington this week for the inaugural global chiefs of mission conference. The US ambassador to Egypt, Margaret Scobey, was unable to attend.

UPDATE 127, Wednesday, Feb. 2, 5:13 p.m. EST/ Thursday, Feb. 3, 12:13 a.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): @Uncucumbered tweets what she thinks could be a police ID taken from a captured Pro-Mubarak thug, perhaps confirming that the supposedly spontaneous pro-government demonstrators were anything but:

UPDATE 128, Wednesday, Feb. 2, 5:27 p.m. EST/ Thursday, Feb. 3, 12:27 a.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): Al Jazeera’s putting the injury count at 1,500. Doctors in Tahrir Square are setting up makeshift clinics.

UPDATE 129, Wednesady, Feb. 2, 9:26 p.m. EST/Thursday, Feb. 3/4:25 a.m. Cairo: The situation has worsened in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Automatic weapons fire can clearly be heard on Al Jazeera’s live coverage, and Reuters has reported that at least one person has been killed. Vehicles in the square are on fire. “If this isn’t state-sponsored [violence], what is?” asks CNN’s Ben Wedeman. CNN’s Tommy Evans says the square is “full” of wounded people. 

UPDATE 130, Thursday, Feb. 3, 10:53 a.m. EST/ Thursday, Feb. 3, 5:53 p.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): Chaos in Tahrir Square reigns, as the violence between pro- and anti-government contingents continues.

  • The New York Times reports that at least five are dead and 836 have been wounded, according to the Egyptian Health Ministry said on Thursday. Most of them hit by stones or beaten with metal rods and sticks. The army has taken up positions between the clashing groups, seemingly trying to make pro-Mubarak demonstrators stand down. And volunteers have been carrying food, water, and medical supplies into the square’s makeshift clinic.
  • In a surprising act of contrition, Egyptian Prime Minsiter Ahmad Shafiq, the Egyptian prime minister, has apologized for the violence, and says it will be investigated. But he also said that calls for Mubaark to step down are “unacceptable,” and that dialogue with all opposition groups will begin.
  • A Short Trip: recently deployed envoy Frank Wisner will return to Washington from Cairo, where he was sent in hopes of coaxing Mubarak into bringing about a peaceful transition to a new government. “[Wisner] was no longer able to be as effective a conduit to President Mubarak after their private conversations had been made public,” reports Jake Tapper. One official Tapper spoke to described the White House’s public stance on the issue “as having had to change ‘every twelve hours'” as events in Cairo has developed.

UPDATE 131, Thursday, Feb. 3, 11:57 a.m. EST/ Thursday, Feb. 3, 6:57 p.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): Mother Jones has been all over the crisis, tackling and clarifying many of the integral, dangling threads:

  • Jim Ridgeway points out something that’s been lost in the shuffle: that the US appears content to contemplate exchanging a dictator in Hosni Mubarak for a a spy-master/torturer in new VP Omar Suleiman.
  • Who’re the key players in the opposition bloc? Jaeah Lee has a rundown of the prominent Egyptians that make up the 10-person Negotiation Steering Committee formed on Sunday to negotiate the country’s political future in a post-Mubarak world.
  • And Adam Weinstein shows some mad love for the New Yorker‘s Malcolm Gladwell and his thoughts on how you don’t need technology to start a revolution.

UPDATE 132, Thursday, Feb. 3, 12:30 p.m. EST/ Thursday, Feb. 3, 7:30 p.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): Vice President Omar Suleiman just spoke on Egyptian State TV. Reform is on the way and constitutional reforms will be ready by May, he said. As for the violence that has racked Tahrir, Suleiman says those responsible—on both the pro- and anti-government sides—will be brought to justice. Those continuing to protest? They’re hurting the country. And the vice president took up Mubarak’s rebuke, blaming foreign forces for meddling in the affairs of the country.

UPDATE 133, Thursday, Feb. 3, 12:42 p.m. EST/ Thursday, Feb. 3, 7:42 p.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): UK-based Channel 4 News correspondent Lindsey Hilsum blogs about Egyptian state TV’s claim that Israeli spies are roaming the country posing as western journalists.

UPDATE 134, Thursday, Feb. 3, 2:25 p.m. EST/ Thursday, Feb. 3, 9:25 p.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): I just spoke with Khaled Abou El Naga, an Egyptian filmmaker who lives in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis. Khaled has participated in the protests since they began on January 25 in Tahrir Square. Just back from the square, a feverish Khaled fears the worst is yet to come. “This regime is trying to hijack the country by spreading chaos, and terror, and lies,” he says. And he thinks that Mubarak and his army of thugs are preparing “for a total crush” of the protestors still in the square. “The plot is very clear. They will have messages that things will be under control, we will investigate who started the violence—they know who started the violence!”

Pro-Mubarak thugs have been streaming into Tahrir Square since yesterday, attacking protestors from its main entrances. They’ve also been targeting the press, taking out video cameras and chasing away reporters. Some even climbed to the tops of buildings overlooking the square, armed with sniper rifles. “With snipers, you just find people dead,” Khaled says. “You don’t hear anything. That’s what happened.”

Khaled believes that the police have been given orders to sow chaos by driving into neighborhoods, firing guns in the air, and looting stores. “The police have become a tool to terrorize Egyptians,” he says. He says that he has seen ambulances, which are controlled by the Interior Ministry, bringing tear gas into the square. Doctors haven’t been able to get into the square; one of Khaled’s own friends, a doctor, was accused by thugs of being a CIA agent when he tried to approach Tahrir Square.

Egyptian state television, meanwhile, has continued to maintain that the anti-government protestors were responsible for the violence. “State television has agitated people more and more,” Khaled says. “They kept saying these are looters who went into Tahrir Square, they’re trying to break stability in Egypt, and they said that they started the violence. All of these are lies that agitated people.”

But Khaled fears that many Egyptians are buying the spin of Mubarak, Vice President Omar Suleiman, and Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq: that order and calm will soon be restored by the government. “People think, ‘oh see the government finally is trying to do something about it and take control.'” he says. “Well at the same time, the violence is still there, the circling of Tahrir Square [by pro-Mubarak forces] is still there—the plot is right there….Unfortunately, a lot of Egyptians are confused now. They think maybe we should just wait until he leaves in September. He will never leave.”

The regime’s plan, as Khaled sees it: disseminate misinformation, violently disrupt the protests, and then purge. “I’m telling you,” he says, “with all the singals I’m reading from the state’s people, they are preparing for a complete crush of Tahrir Square.”

UPDATE 135, Thursday, Feb. 3, 3:36 p.m. EST/10:36 p.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): ABC’s Christiane Amanpour landed an exclusive interview with President Hosni Mubarak. From her interview:

He told me that he is troubled by the violence we have seen in Tahrir Square over the last few days but that his government is not responsible for it. Instead, he blamed the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned political party here in Egypt. He said he’s fed up with being president and would like to leave office now, but cannot, he says, for fear that the country would sink into chaos. I asked President Mubarak about the violence that his supporters launched against the anti-government protestors in Liberation Square. He told me, “I was very unhappy about yesterday. I do not want to see Egyptians fighting each other.”

UPDATE 136, Thursday, Feb. 3, 3:53 p.m. EST/10:53 p.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): Washington’s line is getting tougher. In remarks delivered just a few moments ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the attacks on pro-democracy protestors, diplomats, and journalists. “There is a clear responsibility by the Egyptian government, including the army, to protect those threatened and to hold accountable those responsible for these attacks…the Egyptian government must demonstrate its willingness to ensure journalists’ ability to report on these events to the people of Egypt and to the world.” She went on to urge the Egyptian government, along with “a broad and credible representation of Egypt’s opposition, civil society, and political factions” to begin negotiating a peaceful transition into a new government.

UPDATE 137, Thursday, Feb. 3, 5:15 p.m. EST / Friday, Feb. 4, 12:15 a.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): All Things Moderate, considered: What happens if or when the Muslim Brotherhood comes into greater prominence? Egyptians wary of an Islamist government will look to a more moderate alternative—but what does that mean? And could it stave off a fundamentalist takeover of the state? Elan Journo, a fellow at the Ayn Rand Center, cautions against pinning our hopes on political moderates. In Egypt, he writes, “the political spectrum is far narrower than you may think: whereas Islamists want religion to be the all-encompassing principle of government, a typical ‘moderate’ still acknowledges that Islam has some…role in government. True secularists are scarce and marginal. So could “moderates” in government prevent the Islamists from taking over? Ultimately, no.” And Jeff Goldberg, worried about the Brotherhood’s possible new role, writes: “I would only note for the record that the more radical Muslim Brothers seek the physical eradication of a member-state of the United Nations, and the more moderate Muslim Brothers seek the physical eradication of a member-state of the United Nations. So you will forgive me if I’m not overjoyed by the presence, for this, and many other reasons, of the Muslim Brotherhood in a future Egyptian government.”

UPDATE 138, Thursday, Feb. 3, 8:33 p.m. EST / Friday, Feb. 4, 3:33 a.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): The Obama administration is reportedly negotiating a plan for Mubarak’s immediate resignation, reports The New York Times. The arrangement would hand power over to a transitional government led by Vice President Omar Suleiman, with support of the army. Under the plan, the transitional government will invite members of various opposition groups, including the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, to help figure out how to conduct free elections in September. The proposal, the Times says, is one of several being discussed with top Egyptian officials (though not with Mubarak). But any plan will be tested by Friday’s protests, which protestors have dubbed the “day of departure” for Mubarak.

UPDATE 139, Friday, Feb. 4, 10:17 a.m. EST (Siddhartha Mahanta): Today is the “Friday of departure.” Over 100,000 Egyptians have flooded Tahrir Square, calling on Mubarak to step down. To get you up to speed:

  • The New York Times reports that protestors in the square are chanting, bowing in prayer, and waving Egyptian flags in a peaceful push for the removal of Mubarak; indeed, the violence of the past few days has clearly subsided, with no sign of pro-Mubarak supporters in the square. In a surprising move, the defense minister, Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, appeared in the square on Friday—the first member of the government elite to do so—to inspect troops, as protestors cheered him on. Meanwhile, prominent figures like former Mubarak official Amr Moussa and Mohamed Rafah Tahtawy, a leader of the Sunni Muslim community, have shown their support for the pro-democracy movement.
  • In other Brotherhood news: the Times also reports that the Muslim Brotherhood says it will not field any presidential candidates. And Eli Lake reports that a prominent leader of the Muslim Brotherhood has called on whatever government replaces Mubarak to withdraw from the 32-year old peace treaty with Israel.
  • On the homefront, Josh Rogin writes that House Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) will bring Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy to testify next week on the Obama administration’s Egypt policy. She’s also calling on former NSC Middle East senior director Elliott Abrams and Lorne Craner, a former assistant secretary of State under President George W. Bush’s, to offer their own views.

UPDATE 140, Friday, Feb. 4, 11:16 a.m. EST (Siddhartha Mahanta): Regional Reverberations: Al Jazeera reports that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has called the events in Egypt and Tunisia an “Islamic liberation movement.” In an address during Friday prayers at Tehran University, he compared the unrest in both countries to Iran’s 1979 revolution, and called Mubarak a “servant” of Israel. “The awakening of the Islamic Egyptian people is an Islamic liberation movement and I, in the name of the Iranian government, salute the Egyptian people and the Tunisian people,” he said, urging Egyptian protesters to follow in the footsteps of Iran. Al Jazeera also reports that protests for economic and political reform have continued in Jordan, while a “day of rage” is in the works for today and tomorrow in in Syria.

UPDATE 141, Friday, Feb. 4, 11:45 a.m. EST (Siddhartha Mahanta): MoJo continues to shed light on some of the crucial questions surrounding the US’ options in Egypt. David Corn explores: just how quickly can the US cut off aid to Egypt? And Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist and animator Mark Fiore shows you how to get your own autocrat action figure

UPDATE 142, Friday, Feb. 4, 12:25 p.m. EST (Siddhartha Mahanta): And for more on the aid question: check out ProPublica’s in-depth backgrounder on the US’ options for suspending aid to Egypt.

UPDATE 143, Friday, Feb. 4, 2:25 p.m. EST (Siddhartha Mahanta): Who, exactly, is the Muslim Brotherhood? What does it want? Ask Helena Cobban. And check out these statements released by a committee of pro-democracy activists involved in negotiating a way to move to a peaceful transition (scroll to the bottom of the page). The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace translated the statements, originally published in the Feb. 3 edition of the the Egyptian newspaper Ash-Shorouk.

UPDATE 144, Friday, Feb. 4, 6:00 p.m. EST: Our own Ashley Bates has an interview with a top Hamas official on the unrest in Egypt. Will the uprising in Egypt help Hamas? Click and find out.

Elsewhere in the news, Al Jazeera’s Cairo office was stormed and burned by pro-Mubarak protesters today, a development that ABC News says is “the most dramatic evidence yet that Egyptian authorities are desperate to shut down the network widely praised for revealing the size and reach of the demonstrations.” Thankfully, no one was killed in that confrontation. Ahmed Mohammed Mahmoud, an Egyptian journalist, was not so lucky. The Associated Press reports that Mahmoud, who was shot while taking photos of last Friday’s protests, has since died of his wounds. The Committee to Protect Journalists says it has “documented at least 101 direct attacks on journalists and news facilities [in Egypt] this week” and is “investigating numerous other reports.”

UPDATE 145, Saturday, Feb. 5, 10:53 a.m. EST (Siddhartha Mahanta): Vice President Suleiman and other top military brass are trying to hash out a new governing plan. On Friday, President Obama clung to his “orderly transition” rhetoric, but made it clear that Mubarak’s time—at least in the eyes of the US—is up. Meanwhile, peaceful protests in Tahrir Square continue.

    What’s happening in the square?: The protests continue, as soldiers have established check points and limited the areas available for demonstrators to gather. But the army also appears to be taking measures to separate protestors from the lingering pro-Mubarak demonstrators. Many protestors are disappointed that Mubarak still hasn’t left, and have resigned themselves to the fact that any transition will likely be a protracted one.

    What’s the hold up?: Suleiman and Co. don’t seem to know what to do with Mubarak. One idea is remove him from the presidential palace, and have the transitional government work with opposition leaders to amend Egypt’s constitution and begin the slow march to democracy. Two of the opposition’s big beefs are that the current constitution favors the governing party too heavily, and that Parliament is loaded with pro-Mubarakites.

    What to do with Hosni: some of the ideas being discussed are to move him to his home at the seaside resort Sharm el Sheik, or send him off on one of his annual medical leaves to Germany. But White House officials worry that removing him too early could create constitutional succession problems.

UPDATE 146, Saturday, Feb. 5, 2:32 p.m. EST (Siddhartha Mahanta): Josh Rogin explains exactly what constitutional reform in Egypt entails:

…it will be a Herculean task untangling the Egyptian constitution and legal framework, seeing as so much is weighted toward the regime. For example, Article 5 would need to be amended to allow religiously based political parties to participate. Article 76 must be amended if independent candidates are to be allowed. Law No. 40 for 1977 needs to be changed to ensure that the committee that vets political parties is independent and not filled with government ministers. Law No. 174 for 2005 would have to be amended to allow monitors at election stations.

Voter registration in Egypt is also plagued with problems. The emergency law in place since 1981 significantly constrains political activity that could impact any future elections. Laws and regulations on campaign finance have to be enforced. And the list goes on and on.

UPDATE 147, Saturday, Feb. 5, 3:29 p.m. EST (Tim Murphy): Via the Los Angeles Times, the leadership of President Mubarak’s National Democratic Party—including the president’s son, Gamal—resigned this morning. Initial reports that Mubarak himself had resigned from the party appear to be erroneous. As to the larger question of whether the personnel moves will satisfy millions of demonstrators, The National‘s Sultan Al tweeted: “I don’t recall protesters holding banners that read ‘We want the NDP Policies Bureau to be reformed.'” The Lede has a good breakdown of the changes, complete with a handy organizational chart.

UPDATE 148, Saturday, Feb. 5, 4:12 p.m. EST (Tim Murphy): Over at The Arabist, Issandr El Amrani offers another take on the changes within the NDP, writing that the move “reinforces my feeling that we are in the middle of a slow-moving coup, and possibly one planned for a long time.” Meanwhile, via Foreign Policy, Hosni Mubarak gets the Shepard Fairey treatment in Istanbul.

UPDATE 149, Saturday, Feb. 5, 5:11 p.m. EST (Tim Murphy): It being a Saturday, the news from Washington has been a bit slow today, with one exception: Frank Wisner, the former ambassador to Egypt who was dispatched to Cairo by the Obama administration earlier this week, came out in support of Mubarak staying on as president, calling it “his chance to write his own legacy.” So, is this a sign that the administration is warming up to the idea? State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said Wisner spoke only for himself, but it’s important to keep in mind the source as well. As Josh Rogin noted, Wisner might be the American diplomat who’s most likely to say something like this; having very recently “pushed to create a group of scholars and academics in Washington to advocate for strengthening ties to the Mubarak regime.”

UPDATE 150, Saturday, Feb. 5, 6:52 p.m. EST (Tim Murphy): Egyptian blogger and photojournalist Hossam el-Hamalawy, whom we’ve mentioned previously, has one of the better Flickr feeds I’ve seen over the last two weeks (via Arabist). Most of his photos come from January 29, but they’re really worth a look and help put the events of the last week in perspective (and while you’re at it, check out our gallery of photos from Cairo here). Here’s some Tom Friedman-bait:

Flickr/Hossam el-HamalawyFlickr/Hossam el-HamalawyAnd from tomorrow’s paper, journalists Souad Mekhenet and Nicholas Kulish detail their night at an Egyptian police station for the Times:

But our discomfort paled in comparison to the dull whacks and the screams of pain by Egyptian people that broke the stillness of the night. In one instance, between the cries of suffering, an officer said in Arabic, “You are talking to journalists? You are talking badly about your country?”

In lighter news out of Cairo, this is one of the better wedding photos I’ve ever seen.

UPDATE 151, Sunday, Feb. 6, 11:48 a.m. EST (Ashley Bates): On the 13th day of the pro-democracy protests, massive crowds in Cairo continued to demand Mubarak’s resignation while opposition groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, held talks with the government aimed at finding a peaceful resolution to the crisis. Mohammed Mursi, a senior Brotherhood leader, told Al Jazeera that the group is sticking to the protesters’ main condition that President Hosni Mubarak step down. Gamal Nassar, a  Muslim Brotherhood spokesman, told the New York Times, “The regime keeps saying we’re open to dialogue and the people are the ones refusing, so the Brotherhood decided to examine the situation from all different sides.”

These talks came in the wake of an apparent terrorist attack in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula. CNN reported that a Jordan-bound natural gas pipeline was set ablaze Saturday. Out of precaution, Egypt’s gas company suspended operations on all its gas lines, including a major artery to Israel, which also receives natural gas from other sources.

In other news, Al Jazeera English is ramping up its efforts to expand its presence in the U.S. television market, where it has previously been unable to make headway with major cable and satellite operators. If you’re interested, check out this page on the Al Jazeera website, and follow the prompts to receive an addressed form letter to send to your television provider. The channel is also providing a free “Demand Al Jazeera” banner for websites and blogs, and asking fans to organize “meetups” on Feb. 10. Al Jazeera has been accused of allowing anti-American and anti-Semitic content to air.

UPDATE 152, Sunday, Feb. 6, 4:58 p.m. EST (Ashley Bates): Al Jazeera reported today that yet another Al Jazeera correspondent, Ayman Mohyeldin, has been arrested. Click here to see Mohyeldin’s Twitter page and join the thousands calling for his release. Al Jazeera English correspondent Sherine Tadros was held today at a military checkpoint, but released within the hour. Cairo bureau chief Abdel Fattah Fayed and correspondent Mohammed Fawi were arrested on Saturday but later released. The network has defied the Mubarak regime’s January 30 decision to ban the network, which authorities accuse of anti-government incitement.

Nick Kristof’s Sunday editorial offers a “dose of reassurance” on the question of whether Americans should fear the rise of a government in Egypt that is at least partially dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. He writes, “I asked an old friend here in Cairo, a woman with Western tastes that include an occasional glass of whiskey, whether the Muslim Brotherhood might be bad for peace. She thought for a moment and said: ‘Yes, possibly. But, from my point of view, in America the Republican Party is bad for peace as well.'”

Meanwhile, in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network that will air in full on Monday, Sarah Palin blasted the Obama administration’s outreach to the Brotherhood. “Is it going to be the Muslim Brotherhood?” she asked. “We should not stand for that, or with that, or by that. Any radical Islamists.”

UPDATE 153, Sunday Feb. 6, 7:38 p.m. EST (Ashley Bates): The Egyptian military has freed Al Jazeera correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin following a mass campaign by the network and Mohyeldin’s supporters.

The YouTube video shown below of a protester seemingly shot in cold blood by Egyptian police is rapidly circulating in the blogosphere. The video was uploaded on Saturday, but is said to depict events that took place in Alexandria, Egypt on Jan. 31. After chaotic footage of apparent skirmishes between protesters and police, the video shows a young man approaching police with his hands outstretched inside his coat. Around minute 2:10, the young man stops, appearing to talk to the police, then backs away– and is shot at close range. As the protester lies unmoving on the pavement, an unidentified woman is heard crying out in Arabic, “He is dead. You animal! May God punish you!” It is unknown if the young man survived the shooting.

UPDATE 154, Sunday, Feb. 6, 10:11 p.m. EST (Ashley Bates): The Jerusalem Post has reported that, after initially allowing about 800 Egyptian soldiers to enter the Sinai peninsula, Israel rejected a request by the Mubarak regime to deploy more troops in this border area. Egypt agreed to demilitarize the Sinai peninsula under the terms of its 1979 peace treaty with Israel. A senior Israeli military source told the Jerusalem Post, “We do not want it to seem as if the peace treaty is meaningless, particularly at a time when there could be regime change in Egypt, which could renounce the treaty altogether.”

UPDATE 155, Monday, Feb. 7, 9:30 a.m. EST/4:30 p.m. Cairo:

  • Over at Foreign Affairs, Joshua Stacher writes what others have murmured: “Despite the tenacity, optimism, and blood of the protesters massed in Tahrir Square, Egypt’s democratic window has probably already closed.” Arabist’s Issandr El Amrani says he’s “not as pessimistic as Dr. Josh,” although he thinks “the window is closing.” “There is still time to make major gains,” Amrani continues, “the only thing is that the opposition must move quickly and coherently.”
  • Here’s a good and interesting Facebook post on Egypt’s economic situation by Inji Amr, an Egyptian economist.

UPDATE 156, Monday, Feb. 7, 1:25 p.m. EST: Wael Ghonim, a Google executive who participated in the first protests in Egypt but had been missing for over a week, was released today. “Freedom is a bless that deserves fighting for it,” he tweeted. Google’s official Twitter account called the news a “huge relief.”

UPDATE 157, Monday, Feb. 7, 4:04 p.m. EST (Siddhartha Mahanta): Via Josh Rogin: A group of House Dems are calling on John Boehner (R-Ohio) to follow the Senate’s example and pass an emergency resolution on Egypt. The group wants the resolution to call on the Egyptian government to halt the violence, stop blocking communications inside Egypt, and call on the military to intercede on behalf of civilians.  “In view of the tragic violence unfolding in Egypt, we write to request that the House take up an emergency resolution in support of the Egyptian people and their struggle for freedom and democracy as soon as possible upon returning to session,” wrote Reps. Jim Moran (D-Va.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Mike Honda (D-Calif.), Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) and Keith Ellison (DFL-Minn.) in a letter to Boehner. 

UPDATE 158, Tuesday, Feb. 8, 10:37 a.m. EST (Siddhartha Mahanta): Mubarak’s still in power. The protestors are in still in Tahrir Square. Stalemate?

  • Mubarak and Vice President Suleiman continue holding talks with opposition groups, and promise that a peaceful transfer of power is coming. But their words are falling on defiantly deaf ears, as protestors continue swarming Tahrir Square in even greater numbers than before, reports The New York Times. Meanwhile, the government is trying in vain to maintain normalcy throughout the city, using media outlets to project an air of control. And authorities are still trying to limit journalists’ access to the square.
  • This can’t be good: Josh Rogin reports that the State department has confirmed that the Egyptian military participated in last week’s brutal crackdown on protestors.
  • Al Jazeera has footage of clashes between pro-democracy protesters and supporters of Mubarak.
  • Over at TAPPED, Chris Cassidy writes that Mubarak isn’t going away any time soon, and that his concessions—sacking the cabinet, appointing Suleiman, raising pay for government workers, agreeing not to stand for reelection—are the smallest possible gestures he could make to appease the protestors. “While his strategy for maintaining authority past September remains unclear, it will likely follow the recipe guiding his short-term decisions: one teaspoon negotiations with protesters; two cups of apparent concessions with no specifics and loose timelines; mix in occasional, violent crackdowns; let sit until authority recalcifies.” Cassidy’s analysis: don’t hold your breath.

UPDATE 159, Wednesday, Feb. 9 (Siddhartha Mahanta):

  • Unrest continues to spread across the country as the government remains stubbornly in place. But Wednesday’s crowds in Cairo were the largest yet. Protestors remained camped outside of Parliament, where they marched for the first time on Tuesday. And 6,000 workers at five service companies owned by the Suez Canal Authority began a sit-in on Tuesday night.
  • Mind your own business. That’s Egypitian foreign minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit’s message to the US. Responding to the advice of Vice President Joe Biden, Gheit rejected the calls for the immediate repeal of Egypt’s emergency law, and said Washington is trying to impose its will on Cairo.
  • Meanwhile, Congress took up the issue of being afraid, very afraid, of the Muslim Brotherhood at the first hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “[T]he White House is reportedly making matters worse by apparently reexamining its position on dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood,” said new chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R.Fla.) in her opening statement.”The Muslim Brotherhood had nothing to do with driving these protests, and they and other extremists must not be allowed to hijack the movement toward democracy and freedom in Egypt.” Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY)—ranking Dem on the Middle East subcommittee—agreed, and said the US should suspend all aid to Egypt. But Ros-Lehtinen’s counterpart, Rep. Howard Berman (R-Calif.), said he wants the US to use aid as leverage against the military to pressure Vice President Omar Suleiman and others to behave.

UPDATE 160, Thursday, Feb. 10, 10:30 a.m. EST (Siddhartha Mahanta): It’s day 17 of the anti-Mubarak full court press.

  • Egyptian labor unions continue their nationwide strikes. Al Jazeera reports that thousands of doctors, lawyers, artists, and public transport workers marched through central Cairo and into Tahrir Square today. But its reporters also note that the marches “are more of an economic nature,” and don’t necessarily suggest that the unions have merged their demonstrations with that of the political protestors. Meanwhlie, the Ministry of Interior has launched an investigation into the senior officer gave orders fire on protesters back on January 28.
  • Josh Rogin has the latest scoop from the homefront on the conflicting messages the White House and State Department have been sending. The key point of contention: the role of Vice President Omar Suleiman in the reform process. Foggy Bottom and the White House have agreed on three core principles: non-violence, respect for universal rights, and the need for political change. But “[t]he State Department is advocating a hosted dinner, where the power still resides with the incumbents,” the New America Foundation’s Steve Clemons told Rogin. “That’s not good enough for the White House.”
  • Via Democarcy Now, listen to the The Independent‘s veteran Middle East correspondent, Robert Fisk, on how Washington has failed the protestors. “When the democrats came onto the streets of Cairo and wanted what Obama had advertised to them, it was Obama who clenched his fist and Hillary Clinton who said that it’s a stable regime. Only now, when they realize that perhaps Mubarak is going to go, mainly because the army want to get rid of him,” he says.
  • And The Washington Post‘s Glenn Kessler does an exhaustive fact check on Obama administration’s statements on Egypt.

UPDATE 161, Thursday, Feb. 10, 11:00 a.m. EST/6:00 p.m. Cairo: Egypt’s prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, has told the BBC that Mubarak may step down. “This could be the day that changes everything,” according to Al Jazeera. There was a meeting of Egypt’s Higher Army Council today and Mubarak did not attend.

UPDATE 162, Thursday, Feb. 10, 11:05 a.m. EST/6:05 p.m Cairo: Things are moving quickly. Al Jazeera says CIA chief Leon Panetta has said there is a “strong indication” Mubarak will step down tonight. NBC News is running with the story, saying that Mubarak will definitely step down. UPDATE: A CIA spokesman now tells Politico: “Panetta was relaying news reports that emerged just as hearing began not speaking about independent CIA information.”

UPDATE 163, Thursday, Feb. 10, 11:20 a.m. EST/6:20 p.m. Cairo: It turns out, via Sultan al Qassemi, that the BBC was talking to Hossam Badrawi, the Secretary General of Egypt’s ruling party, the NDP, not to Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik. He told the BBC that “I don’t know” where Mubarak is right now. For what it’s worth, Egypt’s information minister says it’s all just a rumor and Mubarak will not step down. NBC, meanwhile, says it has two sources, including the military, and confirmation that Mubarak will speak tonight.

UPDATE 164, Thursday, Feb. 10, 12:15 p.m. EST/7:15 p.m. Cairo: VP Omar Suleiman, of lack-of-squeamishness-about-torture fame, is meeting with Mubarak now, state television channel Nile TV claims. And the BBC reports that opposition leaders believe Mubarak’s message to the country has been pre-recorded to give the ruler time to flee in advance of the speech. 

UPDATE 165, Thursday, Feb. 10, 12:30 p.m. EST/7:30 p.m. Cairo: Mubarak is reportedly scheduled to speak around 2:30 p.m. EST/9:30 p.m. Cairo today. Also, check out this WikiLeaks cable. It recounts a meeting Richard Posner, a top State Department official, had with Egyptian human rights activists in January 2010. Key quote: Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights Executive Director Hossam Bahgat… “asserted that many Egyptians believe the [government of Egypt] has interpreted the current administration’s relative ‘silence’ on human rights and political issues as a signal of support.” You can bet that supporting famed torturer Omar Suleiman to succeed Mubarak won’t do much to dispel that perception.

UPDATE 166, Thursday, Feb. 10, 1:15 p.m. EST/8:15 p.m. Cairo: Fox News is reporting Mubarak will step down and hand power to a “military council.” Foreign Policy’s Blake Hounshell quotes opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei: “There is no credibility in either Mubarak or Suleiman or anybody who is associated with that regime.”

UPDATE 167, Thursday, Feb. 10, 2:08 p.m. EST/9:08 p.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): President Obama just spoke about the events in Egypt, and directed his message at the Egyptian youth. “We’re watching history,” he said, adding that the Egyptian people are looking for “irreversible change” and that the US will support an orderly transition to democracy.

UPDATE 168, Thursday, Feb. 10, 3:41 p.m. EST/10:41 p.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): Via Al Jazeera: Reuters is reporting that sources in the Middle East say that Mubarak will not announce his resignation and will, instead, lift emergency law. Smart money says that’s not going to do it for the protestors.

UPDATE 169, Thursday, Feb. 10, 4:17 p.m. EST/11:17 p.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): Mubarak didn’t make history with his speech. And he isn’t going anywhere. Addressing the nation’s youth just now, he promised not to “relent to penalize” those responsible for the violence that racked Tahrir square. “My heart went out and I felt the pain as you did. I tell you, that my response to your voice and message and your demands is a commitment that cannot be waived,” he said. Continuing to affirm his lifelong commitment to defending his country, he made clear he “remains adamant to shoulder” his presidential responsibilty and stay in office till September’s elections. He did promise to amend the constitution, in an indication that some reforms might be on the way that scrap the 30-year state of emergency. But he also railed on foreign interlocuters and their attempt to shape events in Egypt. The mood in Tahrir Square took an immediate turn for the worse, with furious protestors hurling their shoes during the address.

UPDATE 170, Thursday, Feb. 10, 5:45 p.m. EST/11:45 p.m. Cairo: Foreign Policy‘s Marc Lynch has a great take on what he calls “the worst speech ever.” “It’s hard to exaggerate how bad Hosni Mubarak’s speech today was for Egypt.” Lynch says Mubarak’s address and VP Omar Suleiman’s followup means “Things could get ugly tonight—and if things don’t explode now, then the crowds tomorrow will be absolutely massive. Whatever happens, for better or for worse, the prospects of an orderly, negotiated transition led by Omar Suleiman have just plummeted sharply.” Speaking of Omar Suleiman, we’ve just published an explainer about who Omar Suleiman is. Read it: Who is Omar Suleiman?

UPDATE 171, Friday, Feb. 11, 10:15 a.m. EST/5:15 p.m. Cairo: Welcome to Day 18. Protests continue. Mubarak’s still in power. What’s the latest?

  • Mubarak has reportedly left Cairo, but that’s unconfirmed and, as The Nation‘s Greg Mitchell points out, “may not mean much.”
  • Another “important” announcement is expected shortly from the Egyptian government. No word yet on what that might be.
  • US military aid paid for Mubarak’s yacht repairs.
  • James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said some nice (and mostly correct) things about the Muslim Brotherhood yesterday, and America’s right wing flipped out. The American Prospect‘s Adam Serwer has the story.
  • Speaking of the Muslim Brotherhood, we have an explainer out (by Bob Dreyfuss) about the group: What Is the Muslim Brotherhood, and Will It Take Over Egypt?

UPDATE 172, Friday, Feb. 11, 11:15 a.m. EST/6:15 p.m. Cairo: Egyptian VP Omar Suleiman just appeared on state television to announce that Mubarak has stepped down and handed power to a military council. (We have more on Suleiman: Who is Omar Suleiman?) “Wild cheers” erupted in Cairo’s Tahrir square, according to CNN. “This is the greatest day of my life. The country has been liberated,” said opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei. Ayman Mohyeldin, an Al Jazeera correspondent, said that for many, a “dream has become a reality.” Here’s what it looked like:

And here’s an interesting/amusing post from counterinsurgency guru and think-tanker Andrew Exum:

Thus far, all of the focus on Egypt has been on winning the day: making sure the administration does not appear to be caught lagging behind momentum. But a better strategy would be —

HOLY %$#@, as I write this, Hosni Mubarak resigns!!! Holy la vache qui %$#@ing rit.

— figuring out how we want this to end. Do we want a transitional government? Do we want a Turkey-style republic? Figure that out, and we can then figure out what needs to happen for that to take place — and how we can support the process. Maybe it’s election monitors, maybe it’s through constitutional lawyers, maybe it’s through more aid for the military. But figure out where we want Egypt to go. I don’t see that yet from the administration.

It’s not over yet.

UPDATE 173, Friday, Feb. 11, 11:30 a.m. EST: Here’s the full text of Suleiman’s statement, via the BBC:

In the name of God the merciful, the compassionate, citizens, during these very difficult circumstances Egypt is going through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down from the office of president of the republic and has charged the high council of the armed forces to administer the affairs of the country. May God help everybody.

UPDATE 174, Friday, Feb. 11, 12:40 p.m. EST (Siddhartha Mahanta): And, now, via the Times, the Supreme Council of the Egyptian Armed Forces:

Due to the consecutive developments in current incidents and which define the destiny of the country, and in context of continuous follow up for internal and external incidents, and the decision to delegate responsibilities to the vice president of the country, and in belief in our national responsibility to preserve the stability and safety of the nation.

The Supreme Council of the Egyptian Armed Forces decided to secure the implementation of the following procedures:

First: End the state of emergency as soon as the current circumstances are over.

Decide on the appeals against elections and consequent measures.

Conduct needed legislative amendments and conduct free and fair presidential elections in light of the approved constitutional amendments.

Second: The Armed forces are committed to sponsor the legitimate demands of the people and achieving them by following on the implementation of these procedures in the defined time frames with all accuracy and seriousness and until the peaceful transfer of authority is completed towards a free democratic community that the people aspire to.

Third: The Armed Forces emphasize on no security pursuit of the honest people who refused the corruption and demanded reforms, and warns against touching the security and safety of the nation and the people. And emphasizes the need for regular work in state facilities and regaining of life to normal to preserve the interests and possessions of our great people.

God protect the nation and the people.

UPDATE 175, Friday, Feb. 11, 2:30 p.m. EST/9:30 p.m. Cairo: Here’s a view of Tahrir square earlier today. It was shot from space. ABC’s Susanna Kim has a good story on how even though Mubarak has been deposed, he’ll be doing just fine money-wise. And our own Kevin Drum riffs off Bob Dreyfus’ Muslim Brotherhood explainer.

UPDATE 176, Friday, Feb. 11, 3:27 p.m. EST/10:27 p.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): President Obama just addressed Mubarak’s resignation (we’ll have his complete remarks when they’re released). “By stepping down, President Mubarak responded to the Egyptian people’s hunger for change,” he said. Acknowledging that difficult questions lie ahead for Egyptians, he said he’s confident they can find the answers. He praised the Egyptian military, saying it served patriotically and responsibly as a caretaker to the state. Now, it will be charged with ensuring a credible transition to a post-emergency law, post-Mubarak world. “Above all, this transition must bring all of Egypt’s voices to the table….[the] spirit of peaceful protest…can serve as a powerful wind at the back of this change.” He assured Egyptians that the US will continue to be a friend and partner, and singled out for praise Egypt’s entrepreneurng, savvy youth, who harnessed social media to organize the protests that led to Mubarak’s departure. “Most people have disovered they are worth something, and this cannot be taken away from them, ever,” he said, quoting a protestor. “This is the power of human dignity…and it can never be denied.” It wasn’t terrorism or violence that brought about change, but nonviolent “moral force that bent the arc of history toward justice once more.”

UPDATE 177, Friday, Feb. 11, 4:10 p.m. EST/11:10 p.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): Marc Lynch stands up for the White House’s handling of the Egyptian revolution:

By the way, for those keeping score in the “peacefully removing Arab dictators” game, it’s now Obama 2, Bush 0. The administration has been subjected to an enormous amount of criticism over the last two weeks for its handling of Egypt, including by people inspired by or who worked on the previous administration’s Freedom Agenda. It was also attacked sharply from the left, by activists and academics who assumed that the administration was supporting Mubarak and didn’t want democratic change. In the end, Obama’s strategy worked. Perhaps this should earn it some praise, and even some benefit of the doubt going forward. And now, a day to celebrate before rolling up the sleeves for the hard work to come.

UPDATE 178, Friday, Feb. 11, 3:42 p.m. EST/10:42 p.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): And here’s the full statement:here’s Obama’s actual statement from today:

Good afternoon, everybody.  There are very few moments in our lives where we have the privilege to witness history taking place.  This is one of those moments.  This is one of those times.  The people of Egypt have spoken, their voices have been heard, and Egypt will never be the same.

By stepping down, President Mubarak responded to the Egyptian people’s hunger for change.  But this is not the end of Egypt’s transition.  It’s a beginning.  I’m sure there will be difficult days ahead, and many questions remain unanswered.  But I am confident that the people of Egypt can find the answers, and do so peacefully, constructively, and in the spirit of unity that has defined these last few weeks.  For Egyptians have made it clear that nothing less than genuine democracy will carry the day.

The military has served patriotically and responsibly as a caretaker to the state, and will now have to ensure a transition that is credible in the eyes of the Egyptian people.  That means protecting the rights of Egypt’s citizens, lifting the emergency law, revising the constitution and other laws to make this change irreversible, and laying out a clear path to elections that are fair and free.  Above all, this transition must bring all of Egypt’s voices to the table. For the spirit of peaceful protest and perseverance that the Egyptian people have shown can serve as a powerful wind at the back of this change.

The United States will continue to be a friend and partner to Egypt.  We stand ready to provide whatever assistance is necessary—and asked for—to pursue a credible transition to a democracy.  I’m also confident that the same ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit that the young people of Egypt have shown in recent days can be harnessed to create new opportunity—jobs and businesses that allow the extraordinary potential of this generation to take flight.  And I know that a democratic Egypt can advance its role of responsible leadership not only in the region but around the world.

Egypt has played a pivotal role in human history for over 6,000 years.  But over the last few weeks, the wheel of history turned at a
blinding pace as the Egyptian people demanded their universal rights.

We saw mothers and fathers carrying their children on their shoulders to show them what true freedom might look like.

We saw a young Egyptian say, “For the first time in my life, I really count.  My voice is heard.  Even though I’m only one person, this is
the way real democracy works.”

We saw protesters chant “Selmiyya, selmiyya”—“We are peaceful”—again and again.

We saw a military that would not fire bullets at the people they were sworn to protect.

And we saw doctors and nurses rushing into the streets to care for those who were wounded, volunteers checking protesters to ensure that they were unarmed.

We saw people of faith praying together and chanting – “Muslims, Christians, We are one.”  And though we know that the strains between faiths still divide too many in this world and no single event will close that chasm immediately, these scenes remind us that we need not be defined by our differences.  We can be defined by the common humanity that we share.

And above all, we saw a new generation emerge—a generation that uses their own creativity and talent and technology to call for a government that represented their hopes and not their fears; a government that is responsive to their boundless aspirations.  One Egyptian put it simply: Most people have discovered in the last few days…that they are worth something, and this cannot be taken away from them anymore, ever.

 This is the power of human dignity, and it can never be denied. Egyptians have inspired us, and they’ve done so by putting the lie to the idea that justice is best gained through violence.  For in Egypt, it was the moral force of nonviolence—not terrorism, not mindless killing—but nonviolence, moral force that bent the arc of history toward justice once more.

 And while the sights and sounds that we heard were entirely Egyptian, we can’t help but hear the echoes of history—echoes from Germans tearing down a wall, Indonesian students taking to the streets, Gandhi leading his people down the path of justice.

 As Martin Luther King said in celebrating the birth of a new nation in Ghana while trying to perfect his own, “There is something in the soul that cries out for freedom.”  Those were the cries that came from Tahrir Square, and the entire world has taken note.

Today belongs to the people of Egypt, and the American people are moved by these scenes in Cairo and across Egypt because of who we are as a people and the kind of world that we want our children to grow up in.

 The word Tahrir means liberation.  It is a word that speaks to that something in our souls that cries out for freedom.  And forevermore it will remind us of the Egyptian people—of what they did, of the things that they stood for, and how they changed their country, and in doing so changed the world.

Thank you.

UPDATE 179, Saturday, Feb. 12, 10:00 a.m EST/5:00 p.m. Cairo:

  • Key developments today: Curfew in Egypt has been reduced—it’s now just midnight to 6 a.m. The stock market is supposed to open on Wednesday. The most important news: Around 3:15 p.m. local time today, the military council that is running Egypt issued a statement promising to eventually hand power to elected, civilian leaders. It also promised Egypt would abide by its longstanding treaties—a move Al Jazeera calls “an apparent nod to its 1979 peace treaty with Israel.” And this morning, the military started to remove the security barriers around Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
  • Take the military’s statement with a big grain of salt, however: Foreign Policy’s Blake Hounshell reports that it was “not well received in Tahrir.”
  • Two must-reads on the military council that’s running Egypt now: ProPublica’s Marian Wang (a former Mother Jones intern!) has an excellent backgrounder and Al Jazeera has profiles of key members of the council. We also have a backgrounder on VP Omar Suleiman, a key member of the council.
  • Amr Hamzawy, a spokesman for Egypt’s committee of “wise men” reformers, has a long op-ed in the Washington Post today about “essential steps to a democratic Egypt.” 
  • On February 1, Paul Amar wrote an excellent, prescient article on the behind-the-scenes movement in Egypt’s political elite. Read it.

UPDATE 180, Sunday, Feb. 13, 10:35 a.m. EST/5:35 p.m. Cairo: Lots of news today, almost all of which at least seems good on its face:

  • The military council ruling Egypt issued its fifth statement earlier today. The headline news was the dissolution of parliament—one of the protesters’ main demands. (The parliament was formed after elections that almost all observers regarded as illegitimate.) The military council also said that it will rule for six months or until presidential and parliamentary elections are held. Ahmed Shafik, the prime minister, will continue in a caretaker role in the meantime. The military also announced that the Egyptian constitution has been suspended and will be amended. Foreign Policy‘s Blake Hounshell calls all this a “good sign.” Here’s the Associated Press story with all the details.
  • Speaking of Ahmed Shafik—the caretaker PM says he believes Mubarak is still in Egypt.
  • Brookings’ Shadi Hamid notes that the military and the Muslim Brotherhood met earlier today and “came out on the same page.” “The Muslim brotherhood is now effectively a legal entity after being banned for decades,” he adds. And interestingly, he says, “There’s an odd strain of thought in Egypt that sees Brotherhood as US-supported entity.” Those folks should touch base with Glenn Beck!
  • Some bad news: “Priceless objects” were stolen from the Egyptian Museum during the uprising.
  • The Times‘ Nick Kristof, who spent time in Tahrir Square, has a column on “What Egypt Can Teach America.”
  • Ripples of the uprising in Egypt have spread throughout the Middle East. There are protests in Bahrain and Yemen. The Palestinian Authority suddenly called for long-overdue elections. And Algeria could, perhaps, be the next hot spot. Peaceful demonstrations have been prohibited there since 2001 (more background here), but that hasn’t stopped Algerians from rallying in the wake of the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. Blake Hounshell says he’s “hearing Al Jazeera camera crews high-tailed it to Algiers yesterday.” What a year.

UPDATE 181, Monday, Feb. 14, 10:30 a.m. EST/5:30 p.m. Cairo: Here’s the latest:

  • The military in Egypt has imposed martial law and banned filming in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the focal point for the protests that brought down Mubarak. As we noted yesterday, the Mubarak-era constitution has been suspended. Al Jazeera reports that Wael Ghonim, the Google executive and activist who was a key organizer of the first protests, claims that “the military council has vowed to rewrite the constitution within 10 days and put it to a referendum within two months.” Brookings’ Shadi Hamid, who is still in Cairo, reports that he “had some meetings with government officials,” and while it’s “hard to believe,” it “seems they’re somewhat serious about political reform.”
  • On the other hand, the Washington Post has a pretty depressing quote from a retired Israeli general: “In a few months, after they realize how powerful they are and if they believe they can control the country and restore stability, I am not sure they won’t fall in love with their huge influence. Under certain circumstances, they can find excuses as to why an election cannot be held at the moment.”
  • Protests continue throughout the Middle East and the Arab world: Bahrain, Yemen, Iran, and Algeria have all seen unrest in recent days. The State Department has issued a statement on the Algerian protests.

UPDATE 182, Monday, Feb. 14, 2:00 p.m. EST/9:00 p.m. Cairo: Arab League president Amr Moussa is stepping down and plans to run for president of Egypt, Al Arabia reports. The military council ruling Egypt opposes a role for Nobel laureate, opposition activists, and former International Atomic Energy Association head Mohamed ElBaradei because he has “not lived much in Egypt,” according to the Financial Times (via Sultan Al Qassemi). And Reuters confirms the Al Jazeera report from Update 181: the military council plans to finalize constitutional reforms within 10 days and put the new document to a referendum within two months.

UPDATE 183, Tuesday, Feb. 15, 10:25 a.m. EST/5:25 p.m. Cairo: Here’s the latest:

  • In Egypt, we’re waiting to see what the military’s revised constitution will look like. But things are heating up elsewhere in the Arab world. The most striking developments have been in the Gulf kingdom of Bahrain, where thousands of people are demonstrating in the main square of the capital, Manama. Two protesters have been killed.
  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s interview with Al Jazeera’s Abderrahim Foukara is definitely worth a read.
  • Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld thinks (surprise!) that George W. Bush’s “freedom agenda” deserves credit for “setting the stage” for the revolutions sweeping the Arab world. And as Josh Rogin explains, Rumsfeld also worries that revolutionaries’ hopes could be “dashed with a repressive regime.” Rogin has more here.
  • This is a few days old, but the New York Times has an excellent play-by-play of the early days of the Egyptian revolution, with fascinating details about how organizers used Facebook. Read it.

UPDATE 184, Tuesday, Feb. 15, 4:15 p.m. EST/11:15 p.m. Cairo: Horrible news from CBS [emphasis added]:

On Friday February 11, the day Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak stepped down, CBS correspondent Lara Logan was covering the jubilation in Tahrir Square for a 60 MINUTES story when she and her team and their security were surrounded by a dangerous element amidst the celebration. It was a mob of more than 200 people whipped into frenzy.

In the crush of the mob, she was separated from her crew. She was surrounded and suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating before being saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers. She reconnected with the CBS team, returned to her hotel and returned to the United States on the first flight the next morning. She is currently in the hospital recovering.

There will be no further comment from CBS News and Correspondent Logan and her family respectfully request privacy at this time.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Ms. Logan and her family. You can donate to the Committee to Protect Journalists here.

UPDATE 185, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 10:35 a.m. EST/5:35 p.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): The latest (and something not-so-new):

  • The Egyptian army has gathered a diverse panel of jurists to revise the country’s constitution, reports The New York Times. Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the defense minister and temporary head of state, has appointed a panel of eight experts led by a former judge and leading Mubarak critic that includes a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, the legal adviser to the a major opposition group, and a Coptic Christian. Opposition leaders are, by and large, optimistic about the panel’s prospects for success.
  • Tom Friedman draws attention to a noteworthy data point: the Egyptian revolutionaries suffered more dead than the entire Egyptian Army has suffered since 1973.
  • A couple days old, but still worth watching: Shadi Hamid and the University of Warwick’s Hisham Hellyer on Bloggingheads, talking about what comes next:

  • The State Department has released a statement on the ongoing unrest in Bahrain, where two protestors have been killed:

The United States is very concerned by recent violence surrounding protests in Bahrain. We have received confirmation that two protesters in Bahrain were recently killed, and offer our condolences to the families and friends of the two individuals who lost their lives.

The United States welcomes the Government of Bahrain’s statements that it will investigate these deaths, and that it will take legal action against any unjustified use of force by Bahraini security forces. We urge that it follow through on these statements as quickly as possible. We also call on all parties to exercise restraint and refrain from violence.

UPDATE 186, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 12:55 p.m. EST/7:55 p.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): The AP reports that the Egyptian Health Ministry says at least 365 civilians were killed during the uprising. But Minister Ahmed Sameh Farid said this is only a preliminary count that doesn’t include police or prisoner casualties. And in the department of What Comes Next, the AP also reports that labor-related protests continue across the country. Airport employees and textile workers are among the groups calling for better pay and an investigation into corruption (respectively). In response, the ruling military council has issued its second statement in the past three days calling for an end to the protests, saying that they hinder efforts to get the economy up and running again. But an overly heavy hand in quelling the unrest runs the risk of heightening still-simmering tensions.

UPDATE 187, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 10:30 p.m. EST: The New York Times just published a story claiming that, way back in August, President Obama requested a “secret report” on the potential for uprisings in the Middle East. The Times story is a pretty transparent attempt by someone in the administration to make the Obama team (and the president himself) look prescient and in-control, and it does a good job of that. There’s definitely some useful ammunition in there for defenders of the administration’s handling of the Egypt situation. So read the piece, but take it with a grain of salt: after all, if this report was really such a big deal, why didn’t the White House leak it days ago, when their alleged lack of foresight about the revolution first came under fire? 

UPDATE 188, Thursday, Feb. 17, 10:00 a.m. EST/5:00 p.m. Cairo: The media’s attention has largely turned to Bahrain, but there’s lots still happening in Egypt:

  • Authorities have located a priceless statue of the pharoah Akhenaten that was stolen from the Egyptian museum during protests on January 28, Egypt’s antiquities minister said Wednesday.
  • Tourist sites in Egypt are expected to reopen soon.
  • Labor unrest continues throughout Egypt. Early reports suggested that the military planned to ban strikes, but it hasn’t actually done that.   Stanford University’s Joel Beinin helpfully explains (to the Times) that strikes have accellerated in recent years as the Egyptian government moved to privatize many sectors of the once mostly state-dominated economy. 
  • The BBC reports that plans for two Iranian warships to traverse the Suez canal—plans that had deeply worried Israel—have been “cancelled.” That’s good news for Egyptian-Israeli relations specifically and for peace in the region in general.
  • The Times‘ Aubrey Belford explains how Indonesia’s Muslim democracy could offer a model for a democratic Egypt. Remember, most Muslims are not Arabs, and there are far more Muslims in Southeast Asia and the subcontinent than in the entire Middle East. 

UPDATE 189, Thursday, Feb. 17, 1:36 p.m. EST/8:36 p.m. Cairo (Siddhartha Mahanta): What could save Egypt? Cities, writes David Leonhardt. A couple days old, but some interesting stuff there.

UPDATE 190, Friday, Feb. 18, 10:45 a.m. EST: Two must-reads from the Times this morning that should do a lot to dampen hopes for a true democratic transition in Egypt. The first story explains how some protesters detained during the resolution are still missing, and, rights groups say, are being held by the military and perhaps tortured. The second story explains how the military is tightening its grip on Egypt’s economy. Did you know all this?:

The Egyptian military defends the country, but it also runs day care centers and beach resorts. Its divisions make television sets, jeeps, washing machines, wooden furniture and olive oil, as well as bottled water under a brand reportedly named after a general’s daughter, Safi.

From this vast web of businesses, the military pays no taxes, employs conscripted labor, buys public land on favorable terms and discloses nothing to Parliament or the public.

Since the ouster last week of President Hosni Mubarak, of course, the military also runs the government. And some scholars, economists and business groups say it has already begun taking steps to protect the privileges of its gated economy, discouraging changes that some argue are crucial if Egypt is to emerge as a more stable, prosperous country.

Read them both.

 UPDATE 191, Saturday, Feb. 19 (Siddhartha Mahanta): Is it time to make Mubarak pay?

  • The New York Times reports that Swiss investigators have found millions of dollars in bank accounts belonging to Mubarak, his family, and some of his top associates. The accounts have been frozen, they say. The associates whose assets been have been frozen include Rachid Mohamed Rachid, a former minister of investment, and Habib el-Adly, a former interior minister. This comes after Egypt’s military-led government asked countries in the West and in the Arab world to freeze assets linked to the Mubaraks.
  • But is this the right way to go? Foreign policy analyst David Rieff questions the necessity of bringing Mubarak to justice:

    To state the obvious, neither Ben Ali, let alone Mubarak, ruled alone. Nor will even the most thorough-going political and bureaucratic housecleaning sweep all their cronies away. To the contrary, it is a virtual certainty than many, though of course not all, of those who collaborated with these tyrants—or held positions of power thanks to their patronage or made immense amounts of money under the old system—will remain central in the new Tunisia and the new Egypt. Mubarak is 82 and has cancer, so surely there is a question of whether the passions (not to mention the embarrassing revelations) that a trial would stir would best be left unkindled? It is true, of course, that if the dictator’s former ministers of interior, tourism, and housing really are brought to trial, much detail about Mubarak’s role in the corrupt practices with which they are charged will inevitably come out. But they do not compare with the revelations that likely would be disgorged were Mubarak himself put in the dock.

  • In the wake of revelations of the sexual assault and beating of CBS correspondent Lara Logan, Kim Barker opines on why we need women in war zones.

UPDATE 192, Monday, Feb. 21 (Siddhartha Mahanta):

  • British Prime Minister David Cameron became the highest-ranking member of a foreign government to visit Cairo since Mubarak’s ouster, reports The New York Times. He met with military and civilian leaders, including the country’s temporary leader, Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, and Ahmed Shafiq, the prime minister in charge of the caretaker government. Cameron is also expected to meet with members of opposition groups—but not with anyone from the Muslim Brotherhood. Essam El Erian, a top Brotherhood official called this decision “astonishing.” Cameron expected to push Egypt’s interim rulers to end the 30-year emergency rule, and discuss trade. US undersecretary of state for political affairs William J. Burns also arrived in Cairo to meet with government and civil society representatives.
  • And the military is trying to make good on its promise to shape a more inclusive government be appointing key opposition figures to head up several of its ministries. The government also announced that it won’t be appointing a new minister of information, “in an apparent acknowledgment that old forms of media control by the government were increasingly becoming an anachronism.

UPDATE 193, Monday, Feb. 21, 6:10 p.m. EST: The State Department has released a transcript of comments made by William Burns, an undersecretary for political affairs, at the Arab League summit in Cairo. Main takeaway: the US plans to “continue to encourage concrete steps to build confidence and to sustain the momentum of the transition, ranging from the constitutional amendments that are being considered, through careful preparations for elections, to the further release of political detainees, to the lifting of the Emergency Law.”

UPDATE 194, Tuesday, Feb. 22 (Siddhartha Mahanta): British Prime Minister David Cameron continues his Middle East swing. The key updates for the day:

  • Egypt’s military rulers were expected to announce a new cabinet today, as British Prime Minister David Cameron begins his tour of the Middle East. Speaking to reporters on his way to Cairo, he said he wanted to see “genuine change” in both Egypt and the wider region, and that “reform and not repression” would lead to a stable future. 
  • Egypt’s top prosecutor, Abdel Meguid Mahmoud, said he would request that the Foreign Ministry ask governments to freeze any assets of Mr. Mubarak, his family, and some of his top associates. The caretaker Egyptian government hasn’t yet made a similar move.
  • Several youth leaders oppose the continuation of the Egyptian cabinet. “The leaders of the major ministries — interior, justice and foreign affairs — as well as the prime minister himself, were put in place by Mr. Mubarak before his fall,” reports the Times. Some are going online, calling for Egyptians to return to the streets “due to the procrastination of Supreme Military Council in responding to the legitimate demands of the Egyptian people and the continuation of all the figures of the former Egyptian regime, in their ministerial posts.”
  • The Global Post has an in-depth look at the Muslim Brotherhood.

UPDATE 195, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 5:45 p.m. EST (Siddhartha Mahanta): The Israeli government has yet to publicly comment on reports that two Iranian Navy ships passed through the Suez Canal on their way to Syria. Speaking off the record, a government official told The New York Times that “the episode is of great concern to Israel.” The ships aren’t expected to enter Israeli waters, but their journey will bring them closer to Israel than usual for such warships. Egyptian authoritiies had to give permission for the frigate and supply vessel to pass through the canal. Meanwhile, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported that that the vessels were to dock in a Syrian port “within the framework of brotherly meetings between the two countries.” IRNA also says that this is the first time Iranian ships have passed through the Suez Canal since the Islamic revolution in 1979.

UPDATE 196, Wednesday, Feb. 23 (Siddhartha Mahanta): More of the same?

  • The Egyptian caretaker government has retained the Mubarak government’s ministers of defense, interior, finance, justice, and foreign affairs, reports Al Jazeera. The Muslim Brotherhood and other protestors had demanded that all of Mubarak’s ministers be ousted, and the Brotherhood says the new cabinet shows that that Mubarak’s “cronies” still control Egypt. “This new cabinet is an illusion,” said senior Brotherhood member Essam el-Erian. “It pretends it includes real opposition but in reality this new government puts Egypt under the tutelage of the West.” But the new cabinet does include key opposition figures like Yehia el-Gamal as deputy prime minister, the Wafd party’s Mounir Abdel Nour as tourism minister, and Tagammu party’s Gowdat Abdel-Khaleq as minister of social solidarity and social justice.
  • University of Chciago economist Casey Mulligan says that Egypt’s economics and demographics suggest that its next leader will not be particularly democratic. Drawing on the results of recent study on democritization in the 20th century, he considers a number of factors: the way Islam shapes Egypt’s population, the country’s relative ethnic homogeneity, and the the role oil plays in its economy. His sobering conclusion: elections will bring little change.

This explainer is no longer being updated on a daily basis. Please see editors’ note.

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