Monday, 31 January 2011

Egypt protests - live updates | News |

Mubarak, Suleiman and Enan From left, Hosni Mubarak, Omar Suleiman and Sami Enan at Egypt's military HQ in Cairo. Photograph: -/AFP/Getty Images

10.51am:CloseLink to this update: There were rumours that Mubarak's son Gamal, who was being lined up to succeed him as president, had fled to London.

The Guardian's Sam Jones has the thankless task of trying to track him down. There was no sign of Gamal in his town house in Wilton Place, this morning, Sam says. Neighbours confirmed that Gamal used to live in the house, on the Belgravia borders, but he hasn't been there for some time.

The Egyptian embassy denied that Gamal had fled to London, but they wouldn't say if he is still in Egypt.

Al-Jazeera is also on Gamal's trail.

10.44am:CloseLink to this update: About 1,000 people have gathered for a protest in the Cairo district of Shubra, about 2km from Tahrir Square, an al-Jazeera correspondent reports from the demo.

The protest began after mid day prayers, he said. Loud chanting could be heard as he spoke.

10.37am:CloseLink to this update: Activists have created a list of missing persons linked to the protests, writes Haroon Siddique.

So far it has 13 names on it but they are asking for help in updating it. Contact @samerkaram or @tinkeyeh on Twitter.

These are the details of the list as it stands.

Wael Ghonim, Cairo
Mohamed Abdelfattah, Alexandria
Shahd Essam, Nasr City
Mohamed Omar, Alexandria
Ziad Bakir, Cairo
Mohamed Aboulazm, Tanta
Kareem Mokhtar, Cairo
Marwan Imam, Cairo
Navine Zaki, Cairo
Ahmed Fouad, Ras Gharid
Mohammad Ghafari, Cairo
The blogger Sandmonkey

10.29am:CloseLink to this update: My colleague Graeme Wearden has more on falling confidence in the Egyptian economy.

Graeme Wearden

Moody's decision to downgrade Egypt's credit rating (see 8.26am) is another reminder of the fragile nature of the country's economy. The protests and the uncertainty over its political future directly threaten tourism, its key revenue stream, and even raise questions
about the Suez Canal.

Reading between the lines of today's statement, Moody's is concerned that the Egyptian authorities will react to the protests by raising wages and subsidies. It argues that Egypt's "weak" public finances, simply couldn't take the strain. Egypt currently runs a large trade
deficit - mainly caused by imports of food and oil, whose prices are subsidised on the streets.

Or as Moody's put it: "Egypt suffers from deep-seated political and socio-economic challenges. These include a chronic high rate of unemployment, elevated inflation and widespread poverty. These, together with a desire for political change, have fueled popular
frustrations. In Moody's opinion, there is a strong possibility that fiscal policy will be loosened as part of the government's efforts to contain discontent."

Egypt's revenues are driven by tourism - thought to bring in around £7bn per year to the Egyptian economy - and taxes on ships using the Suez Canal to avoid the long trip around Africa. The Canal generated almost £6bn of 'remittances' in the last financial year. But Egypt still ran a current account deficit of $802m (£505m) in the third quarter of 2010 - and had to rely on government borrowing to cover the difference.

The Suez Canal is still open today, and authorities point to the "armed guards" that patrol the area to ward against attacks. But the Egypt stock market remained suspended, having fallen by over 16% last week. Officials have just announced that it will be closed tomorrow
too, to prevent investors pulling their money out. Most financial institutions have also been closed in recent days, amid speculation that there could be a major run on Egypt's banks.

10.23am:CloseLink to this update: Harriet Sherwood said there was little sign of the police being deployed back on the streets (see the audio interview earlier). This is confirmed by a new Audioboo clip by al-Jazeera. The reporter also says that a curfew will be imposed an hour earlier today at 3pm (1pm GMT), and that it will be more strictly enforced. But as he says there have been similar claims about enforcement in the last few days.

To listen to the full audio, turn off auto-refresh at the top of the page

10.15am:CloseLink to this update: Below the line in the comments section, archamis translates some of the graffiti that features in that slide show earlier.

Starting from the first:

-Fall Mubarak
-Alaa' (mubarak oldest son) tell your papa lets flee with the mob
-An ass would have understood
-Revolution people... revolution
-NO mubarak, NO Nazeef, NO Soroor
-The People want the System to fall
-Fall Mubarak, Fall Gamal
-No Mubarak, 30 years of theft.

9.48am:CloseLink to this update: Syria's president Bashar Assad says the protests in Tunisia and Egypt are ushering in a "new era" in the Arab world, but he claimed his country was immune.

In a rare interview Assad told the Wall Street Journal that Syria is stable despite having more "difficult circumstances" than the rest of the Arab world.


Assad's regime is considered vulnerable to the same kind of unrest that has gripped Tunisia and Egypt. After the fall of president Ben Ali in Tunisi, Assad appeared earlier this month on a memorable front page of the French newspaper Liberation. It asked Who's next? Mubarak appears next to Ben Ali.

But Assad insisted that Syria was different. In a sometimes rambling interview Assad told the WSJ:

If you want to make a comparison between what is happening in Egypt and Syria, you have to look from a different point: why is Syria stable, although we have more difficult conditions? Egypt has been supported financially by the United States, while we are under embargo by most countries of the world. We have growth although we do not have many of the basic needs for the people. Despite all that, the people do not go into an uprising. So it is not only about the needs and not only about the reform. It is about the ideology, the beliefs and the cause that you have. There is a difference between having a cause and having a vacuum. So, as I said, we have many things in common but at the same time we have some different things.

9.46am:CloseLink to this update: The scenes at Cairo airport are "fairly chaotic", according to the Guardian's Jerusalem correspondent Harriet Sherwood who flew in last night. "Crowds of people in the lobbies, every room was booked out, piles of luggage everywhere. We ended up sleeping on the floor with 100 other people," she said.

British passengers told her they were disappointed by the lack of action from the British government.

On the streets of Cairo, vigilante groups continue to control their local neighbourhoods, Harriet said.

To listen to the full audio, turn off auto refresh at the top of the page

9.13am:CloseLink to this update: Human Rights Watch has appealed directly to the head of Egyptian military to help ensure a smooth transition to democracy in Egypt.

Here's the letter:

Dear Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi,

At this critical moment in the history of Egypt and the Middle East, a heavy burden of responsibility falls on the leaders of the Egyptian Armed Forces to ensure a smooth transition from an era of political repression characterised by severe abuse to one in which fundamental human rights are respected.

In the midst of anxious days of popular protest and revolt against police brutality, torture and corruption, and with protesters calling for a new constitutional order in Egypt, the Egyptian Armed Forces now stand as the only security organs of the Egyptian state that retain the trust of the Egyptian people.

The legitimacy of the Egyptian police and other internal security organs have long been tarnished by a record of human rights abuses, including the systematic use of torture. Furthermore the role of the internal security forces in the attempted suppression of protests in recent days, in which Human Rights Watch and the international media have witnessed countless examples of excessive use of force and other egregious abuses, has further undermined their credibility. Human Rights Watch is already calling for accountability for these abuses and the prosecution of those responsible.

In contrast, the Egyptian military, which was called onto the streets on Friday 28 January, has so far shown commendable restraint and has been welcomed by the majority of protesters. Human Rights Watch is therefore now calling on you and your fellow chiefs of the Egyptian military to maintain this commendable posture of trust and restraint and to remind you of the legal obligations, under international law, of the Egyptian Armed Forces, given their current involvement in policing activities.

First, the Egyptian Armed Forces must respect the rights of the Egyptian people to freedom of assembly and peaceful protest against a government that has ruled through repression and dictatorial whim for decades.

Second, to the extent that the Armed Forces are engaged in protecting public security, they are obliged to abide by the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials. Under these principles, law enforcement officials may use reasonable and proportionate force to prevent crimes, but firearms should only be used in situations of grave and imminent threats of death or serious injury.

Third, Human Rights Watch draws your attention to the real possibility that failure to abide by these international standards would open individual soldiers, officers and their superiors to investigation and prosecution.

We urge you to reflect on the fact that the current crisis in Egypt and the rest of the region is in great part the result of years of corrupt and abusive government and unlawful torture and repression by its security forces, against which the people are now in open revolt. The solution to this crisis is not further repression, but a swift and orderly transition to a new democratic order in which the basic rights and freedoms of the people of the region are respected. We urge you to shoulder your historic responsibility and to assist in bringing about this transition.

Kenneth Roth (Executive director Human Rights Watch)

Live blog: Twitter

9.04am:CloseLink to this update: There's a heavy military presence in central Cairo today, but there are signs of good relations between the army and the protesters, according to a Twitter update from CNN's Ivan Watson.

Far more soldiers and tanks in the streets today. Military was distributing bread to poor people from a truck off Tahrir square.

Cairo blogger, Wael Abbas gives the protester's perspective:

people spent the night in tahrir square and woke up in high spirits determined to continue

8.26am:CloseLink to this update: David Cameron has just appeared on the BBC 1 breakfast sofa, to call for a reform. Egypt must go down path of reform, not repression, he said according to BBC tweet.

Once again news is coming thick and fast on Egypt.

Protesters have called for a million people to take to the streets of Cairo tomorrow, al-Jazeera reports.

• The rating agency Moody's has downgraded Egypt to Ba2 status reflect growing anxiety among investors about the continuing unrest. "Moody's decision to downgrade Egypt's government bond ratings is driven by increased event risk," Moody's said in an emailed statement, according to the Wall Street Journal. "This has resulted from escalating political tensions in the country following the recent uprising in Tunisia, with large-scale antigovernment protests taking place."

Israel has urged the world to temper the criticism of Mubarak, according to the Israeli parper Ha'aretz. "The Americans and the Europeans are being pulled along by public opinion and aren't considering their genuine interests," one senior Israeli official told the paper. "Even if they are critical of Mubarak they have to make their friends feel that they're not alone. Jordan and Saudi Arabia see the reactions in the West, how everyone is abandoning Mubarak, and this will have very serious implications." A columnist in the Jerusalem Post describes the unrest in Egypt as "worst disaster since Iran's revolution".

8.09am:CloseLink to this update: Mubarak appeared to blame the Muslim Brotherhood for "infiltrating" the protest, in his statement read out on state TV last night.

"The citizens and the young people of Egypt have gone out to the streets in peaceful demonstration asking for their right for the freedom of speech," he said according to a transcript reported on CNN.

"However, their demonstrations have been infiltrated by a group of people who use the name of religion who don't take into consideration the constitution rights and citizenship values."

This is a "desperate ploy" according to the Middle East analyst Juan Cole.

He [Mubarak] contrasted the hooliganism of the Brotherhood with the peaceful aspirations of most Egyptians, and pledged to work for economic and social reform (while giving the pledge no content). Mubarak is attempting to split the movement against him by sowing seeds of doubt among its constituents.

These include Coptic Christians, educated middle and upper middle class Muslims, and non-ideological youth, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood. By suggesting that the MB is taking advantage of the protests to conduct a campaign of sabotage behind the scenes, with the goal of establishing a theocratic dictatorship, Mubarak hopes to terrify the other groups into breaking with the Muslim fundamentalists. Since middle class movements such as Kefaya (Enough!) are small and not very well organized, Mubarak may believe that he can easily later crush them if he can detach them from the more formidable Brotherhood.

It is a desperate ploy and unlikely to work. Mainstream Muslim Egyptians and Copts do have some fear of the Muslim Brotherhood as a sectarian and fundamentalist tendency, but their dislike of the Mubarak government for the moment seems to overcome their anxieties about a theocracy.

7.49am:CloseLink to this update: What will happen next?

Writing on his own blog al-Bab, the Guardian's Middle East expert Brian Whitaker, assesses the current stand off and the prospects for the next few days.

Brian Whitaker byline photo

Today, in an effort to restore a semblance of normality, the police will be back on the streets – reportedly with instructions not to confront the protesters. They had been withdrawn over the weekend, apparently to facilitate looting by the regime's thugs and provide the excuse for a crackdown. That move was thwarted by the public, who organised their own unofficial policing.

One of the most striking things about the uprising so far has been the resourcefulness of the protesters and their determination. At the same time though, on the other side, we have President Mubarak – equally implacable and determined to stay put.

The result, for now, is deadlock. But the deadlock is not going to be broken on the streets by the army or the police. At some point there will have to be movement on the political front – and that is not going to happen instantly. (It's worth repeating that the removal of Ben Ali in Tunisia took four weeks; the Mubarak regime is a tougher nut to crack and the uprising began less than a week ago.)

There seems to be widespread recognition, even by some of the regime stalwarts, that Egypt is moving towards "transition". The argument, basically, is whether it will be a transition supervised by Mubarak or not. The protesters' fear is that a transition under Mubarak will merely bring a change of faces without real change in the system they are protesting about. As far as the protesters are concerned, that is a deal-breaker.

Mohamed ElBaradei offered the regime a carrot yesterday by putting himself forward as "leader" of the opposition. Like him or not, this means a channel is now open for dialogue if and when the regime is ready to talk – though on the protesters' side that can't happen until Mubarak goes.

7.44am:CloseLink to this update: Egyptian protesters have called for general strike today after another night of demonstrations in defiance of a curfew.

"The army has to choose between Egypt and Mubarak," one banner read. Cairo blogger Sarah Carr has put together a Flickr slide show of anti Mubarak graffiti (Thanks to the New York Times's Lede blog for the find).

Protester Amr Shalakany conveys the mood in Tahrir Square.

This has nothing to do with any political party. It is truly a popular movement. There is concern about what is going to happen next. We need to continue to experience this with joy. We have to remain peaceful until we get our demands. Look, there are more and more people walking into Tahrir Square.

In a statement read out on state TV last night, Mubarak promised reforms. He is also due to name his cabinet.

You can read how yesterday's events unfolded in Sunday's live blog, but here's a round up of the overnight's news:

• Egyptian opposition leader, Mohamed ElBaradei, addressed the protest in Tahrir Square to predict change will come in "the next few days". The Nobel peace laureate announced that he had been delegated by opposition groups to discuss the formation of a national salvation government.

Mubarak was shown on state TV conferring with his newly appointed vice-president, the intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, and senior generals in an attempt to demonstrate that he enjoys the solid support of the armed forces.

Al-Jazeera TV was ordered to close because of its coverage of the protests.

Thousands of prisoners, including Muslim Brotherhood activists, escaped from four jails.

• Large-scale protests erupted in Alexandria, Egypt's second city, after the funerals of victims of the unrest. The death toll over the past six days was reported to have risen to 102.

British nationals in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez were told to leave if it was safe. The US said it was organising flights to evacuate its citizens and urged all Americans in Egypt to consider leaving.

• There has been International alarm about the political and security implications of continuing unrest. China, Saudi Arabia, and Israel have also expressed anxiety.

Hamas has closed Gaza's southern border as Israel warns of increase in weapons smuggling during unrest in Egypt.

David Cameron and Barack Obama discussed Egypt in telephone discussions and called last night for an "orderly transition" to a democratic government.