Hundreds of opposition activists were arrested by Egyptian security forces in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez Wednesday, Jan. 26 in an attempt to quell the stormy anti-government demonstrations which began sweeping Egyptian cities Tuesday, before they got out of hand. Official sources said 500 arrests were made, while debkafile's Middle East put the figure closer to 1,000, including journalists.
This morning, the day after four people were killed in the anti-Mubarak rallies, the interior ministry in Cairo banned public gatherings, street protests and marches, warning that anyone defying the ban would be detained and prosecuted.Nonetheless, by nightfall Wednesday, demonstrators were again out on the streets of Cairo and Suez. Foreign correspondents reported that hundreds congregated outside the Egyptian Journalists Association building in central Cairo and clashed with police forces. In Suez, protesters gathered around the local morgue and demanded the body of the demonstrator killed Tuesday.
Police tried to disperse them with water cannon and tear gas.
Mohamed ElBaradai, former director of the UN nuclear watchdog who is considering running in the next presidential election, called on the Egyptian masses to join the street rallies against President Hosni Mubarak.
According to an earlier debkafile report, Egyptian and Arabic internet sites were reporting Wednesday that Hosni Mubarak's son and chosen successor as Egyptian president secretly took himself and family out of the country Tuesday by way of the military airfield in West Cairo at the peak of anti-government riots in Egyptian cities.
Twitter also carried an unconfirmed report that Suzanne Mubarak, Egypt's first lady, was identified by airport workers on arrival at Heathrow airport, London. No source was cited.
If confirmed, Gemal Mubarak's defection would attest to deep cracks in the 82-year old president's regime, the reverse of the prevailing view in the West and Israel that the regime is in no danger of being overthrown by the protest movement sweeping the country. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday she believed the government was stable. Yet Wednesday, the Egyptian pound fell sharply against the US dollar and the stock market tumbled more than 4 percent.
Twitter's service was blocked in Egypt early Wednesday. But this did not stop opposition leaders from calling for the demonstrations to continue. They were heartened by their success Tuesday in getting tens or even hundreds of thousands out on the streets to demand the president's resignation and even more by Gemal's reported desertion.
With tension running high in Cairo, most observers report to debkafile their sense that in the last two years, the Mubarak regime had lost its momentum. Grave domestic problems and economic hardships were neglected or addressed sluggishly. Even after 30 years in power, the president heaped obstacles in the path of a choice of successor and an orderly handover of power. He kept his son Gemal dangling without a final decision and denied him the chance to prepare himself for the task.
In the parliamentary poll of December 2010, opposition parties were kept off the ballot by Egyptian security services headed by Intelligence Minister Gen. Omar Suleiman.
Opposition organizations were therefore more than ready for a showdown with the government when the spark from Tunis appeared to help ignite the street.
Tuesday night, debkafile reported:
More than 100,000 turned out Tuesday, Jan. 25 in central Cairo and other Egyptian cities for stormy demonstrations such as Egypt has not seen for more than a quarter century. Airing many grievances, they called on President Hosni Mubarak to resign after 30 years in power. Officials said three people had been killed in clashes between stone-throwing demonstrators and policemen using tear gas, water cannon and night sticks – two demonstrators and a policeman. debkafile's sources report the number is higher and, while no figure was given for the injured, our sources estimate that there were at least 150.
After dark Tuesday, the authorities announced that Mubarak's supporters would mount a counter-demonstration the following day. A collision between the two camps might well lead to further upheavals.
The anti-government movement mustered its biggest show of strength at central Cairo's Liberation Square. The authorities estimate the figure at 10,000. debkafile sources say it was at least 30,000. Some 10,000 also rallied in Alexandria with thousands more in the cities of the Delta and along the Suez Canal.
The government and security forces were not prepared for these numbers, the extent of the unrest or the force of the demonstrators' anger. They had counted on their warning Monday night that all demonstrators faced arrests to deter many from joining the protests. Instead of making good on this warning, the Egyptian police at first stood by quietly and watched the protesters sounding of. But when hundreds broke through the police phalanx and ran toward the parliament building, they were told to use rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas.
A mass melee resulted such as Cairo has not seen since 1977 when mass riots forced Anwar Sadat to back down from bread price hikes.
debkafile's Cairo sources report that the organizers plan to keep their protest going non-stop to absorb all the non-religious opposition elements in the country. So far, the Islamic parties led by the Muslim Brotherhood have ordered their followers not to join in. If this order is changed, the Mubarak regime will be in trouble.
Further north, Tuesday also saw fierce Sunni-Christian riots across Lebanon against Prime Minister-designate Najib Miqati, who was attacked as a pawn of Hizballah and Iran. Anti-government outbreaks also continued in the streets of Tunisia and Jordan. For the first time in decades of Middle East history, Arab streets are willing to battle incumbent regimes and brave the security forces ranged against them.