Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak 311 AP.
(photo credit: AP / Egypt TV)
CAIRO — Embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak fired his
Cabinet early Saturday and promised reforms in his first response to
protesters who have mounted the biggest challenge ever to his 30-year
But many protesters were outraged by Mubarak's nationally televised
address, in which he also defended the crackdown by police on tens of
thousands of demonstrators that drew harsh criticism from the Obama
administration Friday, and even a threat to reduce a $1.5 billion
program of foreign aid if Egypt escalated the use of force.
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number of people killed in the latest day of anti-government protests
in Egypt rose to 30 on Friday, with 13 people killed in the port city of
Suez, al-Jazeera reported.
Nearly 20 people were also reportedly injured in the protests in Suez, with over 900 people injured throughout the country.
decision to dismiss Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif and the rest of
the Cabinet would be interpreted as a serious attempt at bringing
change under normal circumstances. But on a day when tens of thousands
of people took to the streets to demand Mubarak's ouster, it fell far
short of expectations.
As a result, options appeared to be
dwindling for Mubarak, a 82-year-old former air force commander who
until this week maintained what looked like rock-solid control of the
most populous Arab nation and the cultural heart of the region.
addressed the nation minutes after the end of a day of protesters
running rampant on the streets of Cairo, battling police with stones and
firebombs, burning down the ruling party headquarters, and defying a
night curfew enforced by a military deployment.
attempts to suppress demonstrations appeared to have eroded support from
the US — suddenly forced to choose between its most important Arab ally
and a democratic uprising demanding his ouster.
were clearly emboldened by their success in bringing tens of thousands
to the streets in defiance of a ban, a large police force, countless
canisters of tear gas, and even a nighttime curfew enforced by the first
military deployment of the crisis.
Flames rose in cities across
Egypt as police cars burned and protesters set the ruling party
headquarters in Cairo ablaze. Hundreds of young men tore televisions,
fans and stereo equipment from other buildings of the National
Democratic Party neighboring the Egyptian Museum, home of King
Tutankhamun's treasures and one of the country's most popular tourist
Young men could be seen forming a human barricade in front of the museum to protect it.
around the city looted banks, smashed cars, tore down street signs and
pelted armored riot police vehicles with paving stones torn from
"We are the ones who will bring change," said
21-year-old Ahmed Sharif. "If we do nothing, things will get worse.
Change must come!" he screamed through a surgical mask he wore to ward
off the tear gas.
Mubarak said the unrest was striking fear in
the heart of the majority of Egyptians concerned about the future of
their country. He defended a crackdown on protesters that included
clouds of tear gas, beatings, rubber bullets and cuts to the Internet
and cell phones.
He said he had given them instructions that the
protesters be allowed to express their views. But, he said, acts of
violence and vandalism left the security forces with no choice but to
react to restore order.
"Violence will not solve the problems we face or realize the objectives we aspire to," he said.
national airline halted flights for at least 12 hours and a Cairo
Airport official said a number of international airlines had canceled
flights to the capital, at least overnight. There were long lines at
many supermarkets and employees limited bread sales to 10 rolls per
Once-unimaginable scenes of anarchy along the Nile played
out on television and computer screens from Algiers to Riyadh, two
weeks to the day after protesters in Tunisia drove out their autocratic
president. Images of the protests in the smaller North African country
emboldened Egyptians to launch four straight days of increasingly
fearless demonstrations organized over mobile phone, Facebook and
The government cut off the Internet and mobile-phone
services in Cairo, called the army into the streets and imposed a
nationwide night-time curfew. The extreme measures were ignored by tens
of thousands of rich, poor and middle-class protesters who united in
rage against a regime seen as corrupt, abusive and neglectful of the
nearly half of Egypt's 80 million people who live below the poverty line
of $2 a day.
"All these people want to bring down the
government. That's our basic desire," said protester Wagdy Syed, 30.
"They have no morals, no respect, and no good economic sense."
has been one of the United States' closest allies in the region since
President Anwar Sadat made peace with Israel in 1979 after talks at Camp
Mubarak kept that deal after Sadat's 1981 assassination
and has been a close partner of every US president since Jimmy Carter,
helping Washington exert its will on issues that range from suppressing
Islamist violence to counterbalancing the rise of Iran's anti-American
The government's self-declared crowning legacy
has been its economic achievements: rising GDP and a surging private
sector led by a construction boom and vibrant, seemingly recession-proof
But many say the fruits of growth in this formerly
socialist economy have been funneled almost entirely to a politically
connected elite, leaving average Egyptians surrounded by unattainable
symbols of wealth such as luxury housing and high-priced electronics as
they struggle to find jobs, pay daily bills and find affordable housing.
unrest began when tens of thousands poured into the streets after noon
prayers, stoning and confronting police who fired back with rubber
bullets and tear gas. Demonstrators wielding rocks, glass and sticks
chased hundreds of riot police away from the main square in downtown
Cairo and several of the policemen stripped off their uniforms and
badges and joined the demonstrators.
An Associated Press reporter saw the protesters cheering the police who joined them and hoisting them on their shoulders.
officials said there were protests in at least 11 of the country's 28
provinces, and unrest roiled major cities like Alexandria, Suez, Assiut
and Port Said. At least one protester was killed Friday, bringing the
death toll for the week of protest to eight. Demonstrators were seen
dragging blooded, unconsciousness fellow protesters to waiting cars and
on to hospitals, but no official number of wounded was immediately
The uprising united the economically struggling and
the prosperous, the secular and the religious. The country's most
popular opposition group, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, did not
advertise its presence and it was not immediately clear how much of a
role it played in bringing people to the streets.
Many protesters chanted "God is great!" and stopped their demonstrations to pray.
men in one downtown square clambered onto a statue of Talat Harb, a
pioneering Egyptian economist, and unfurled a large green banner that
proclaimed "The Middle Class" in white Arabic lettering.
Women dressed in black veils and wide, flowing robes followed women with expensive hairdos, tight jeans and American sneakers.
crowd included Christian men with keyrings of the cross swinging from
their pockets and young men dressed in fast-food restaurant uniforms.
a man sporting a long beard and a white robe began chanting an Islamist
slogan, he was grabbed and shaken by another protester telling him to
keep the slogans patriotic and not religious.
Women were largely unmolested in a city where sexual harassment on the streets is persistent.
downtown Cairo, people on balconies tossed cans of Pepsi and bottles of
water to protesters on the streets below to douse their eyes, as well
as onions and lemons to sniff, to cut the sting of the tear gas.
The troubles were preventing trains from coming to Cairo, a city of 18 million people, security officials said.
of the most serious violence Friday was in Suez, where protesters
seized weapons stored in a police station and asked the policemen inside
to leave the building before they burned it down. They also set ablaze
about 20 police trucks parked nearby. Demonstrators exchanged fire with
policemen trying to stop them from storming another police station and
one protester was killed in the gun battle.
In Assiut in southern
Egypt, several thousand demonstrators clashed with police that set upon
them with batons and sticks, chasing them through side streets.
appeared unfazed by the absence of Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed
ElBaradei, one of the country's leading pro-democracy advocates. The
former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency was soaked with a
water cannon as protests erupted after Friday, and then prevented by
police from leaving after he returned to his home.