Thousands call for Mubarak to resign in coordinated protests across Egypt
Police clashed with protesters in the streets of Cairo and other cities Tuesday as thousands of Egyptians demanded that President Hosni Mubarak resign. As in Tunisia's revolt, Facebook and Twitter were crucial to coordinating the protests.
Inspired by the successful popular revolt in Tunisia earlier this month, thousands of Egyptians took to the streets in Cairo and other cities on Tuesday, clashing with police as they voiced their anger at the poverty and corruption that have plagued their nation during President Hosni Mubarak's nearly 30-year rule. Two demonstrators were killed in Suez and a police officer died in protests in the capital, according to medical and security sources.
Police fired tear gas and sprayed water cannons as protesters carrying Egyptian flags and chanting anti-government slogans hurled stones and broke down police barriers. Street marches were reported in several other cities across the country, including Alexandria, Mansura, Tanta, Aswan and Assiut.
Sporadic clashes took place into early Wednesday, but the last protesters appeared to have been dispersed before sunrise. Police had retaken Tahrir square in central Cairo, while street sweepers cleared away rocks and litter.
As in Tunisia, social networking sites have been crucial to coordinating the demonstrations across multiple cities and in keeping up the momentum. Reports surfaced Tuesday afternoon that access to Twitter in Egypt had been blocked. But in the days prior to the protests, messages about the anti-government activities in Egypt were posted at a frenetic pace on both Twitter and Facebook, the latter of which counts roughly five million users in the desert nation.
The sites have also been a vehicle for expressing anxiety, caution and scepticism about the protests, and about a possible crackdown by Egyptian authorities.
Ominous advice online
Activists in Egypt have used the Web as a rallying point for Tuesday’s demonstrations, which were timed to coincide with Police Day, a national holiday commemorating the massacre of Egyptian police officers by British forces in 1952. An Egyptian Facebook group called “January 25: the revolution of liberty” has close to 400,000 fans and displays the message: “Dear people of Tunisia, the sun of the revolution will not disappear!” Another group called “Day of Revolution” says it attracted more than 80,000 Egyptian Web users to the protests.
It has been difficult to follow protest-related Twitter activity due to a veritable flood of messages on the micro-blogging network. Some Twitter users adorned their accounts with icons featuring the date of January 25, and "#Jan25" has been the key word or “hashtag” most frequently used by Egyptians exchanging information on the anti-government demostrations.
Though some Web users have been using Twitter to denounce the Mubarak regime, others have called for caution, and many activists fear a crackdown by Egyptian security forces. One Egyptian Twitter user in California, Lobna Darwish, used her account to offer advice: “To avoid electric shocks, put on several layers of clothing, particularly wool.” Similarly ominous tips have been circulated on Facebook, such as how to react if being beaten by police or what to do if taken away in a police car.
‘Who will benefit?’
Other messages expressed deep scepticism as to the effectiveness of the protests. “I’m a young Egyptian woman and I don’t understand what you want with this revolution, who will benefit?” is one message on the Facebook page of a group called “Révolution égyptienne blanche” or “Egyptian White Revolution”. The group has expressed concern that the protests are being manipulated by opposition parties trying to score political points against Mubarak.
Unlike in Tunisia, Egyptian religious figures seem to be actively involved in the anti-government movement. The Facebook page of a group called “No More Silence After This Day” features several quotes from the Koran, as well as a link to a statement from a conservative Islamic organisation called the Salafist Movement for Reform, which has pledged support for the street protests and called on its members to participate.