Egyptian Protests 311.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
CAIRO — Internet service in Egypt was disrupted and the government deployed an elite special operations force in Cairo on Friday, hours before an anticipated new wave of anti-government protests.
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The developments were a sign that President Hosni Mubarak's regime was toughening its crackdown following the biggest protests in years against his nearly 30-year rule.
The counter-terror force, rarely seen on the streets, took up positions in strategic locations, including central Tahrir Square, site of the biggest demonstrations this week.
Facebook and Twitter have helped drive this week's protests. But by Thursday evening, those sites were disrupted, along with cell phone text messaging and BlackBerry Messenger services. Then the Internet went down.
Earlier, the grass-roots movement got a double boost — the return of Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei
and the backing of the biggest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood.
After midnight, security forces arrested at least five Brotherhood
leaders and five former Members of Parliament, according to the group's
lawyer, Abdel-Moneim Abdel-Maksoud, and spokesman, Walid Shalaby. They
said security forces had also taken a large number of Brotherhood
members in a sweep in Cairo and elsewhere.
The real test for the
protest movement will be whether Egypt's fragmented opposition can come
together, with Friday's rallies expected to be some of the biggest so
Social networking sites were abuzz that the gatherings
called after Friday prayers could attract huge numbers of protesters
demanding the ouster of Mubarak. Millions gather at mosques across the
city on Fridays, giving organizers a vast pool of people to tap into.
82-year-old Mubarak has not been seen in public or heard from since the
protests began Tuesday with tens of thousands marching in Cairo and a
string of other cities. While he may still have a chance to ride out
this latest challenge, his choices are limited, and all are likely to
lead to a loosening of his grip on power.