Protests have erupted in cities across Egypt following Friday midday
prayers, with angry demonstrators demanding an end to Hosni Mubarak's
30-year presidency. Tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the
streets across the country, witnesses have said.
Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh, reporting from the Mediterranean port city
of Alexandria, said protesters streamed out of mosques shortly
after prayers to chant slogans against Mubarak. Police responded
immediately, firing tear gas to disperse the crowd.
Alexandria is a stronghold of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's
technically banned but largest political opposition group, but Rageh
said the crowds in the city predominantly consisted of "ordinary
"This is the same mosque where protests were held against police
brutality in June after a 20-year-old man was beaten to death by
police," she said. "It's very symbolic that the current protests are
taking place at the same place all over again."
Protests were also reported in Suez, a port on the Red Sea east of
Cairo, and in the Nile Delta cities of Mansoura and Sharqiya, witnesses
Clashes between protesters and police erupted outside a mosque in
Cairo. Protesters reportedly threw stones and dirt at the police after
security forces confronted them. They held up posters saying "No to
dictatorship" and stamped on posters of Mubarak.
Friday marked the fourth consecutive day of protests in the Middle
East's most populous nation coming on the heels of a social uprising in
nearby Tunisia that ousted that country's president of 23 years.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the United Nations' nuclear
watchdog and an opposition leader in Egypt, returned to the country on
Thursday night after telling reporters he was ready to lead a
"transition" if asked. On Friday, he prayed with thousands of
worshippers at a mosque in Cairo and had reportedly been prevented from
moving freely by security forces.
The countrywide violence has so far left seven people dead.
In response, the government has promised to crack down on
demonstrations and arrest those participating in them. It has blocked
internet, mobile phone and SMS services in order to disrupt the planned
Before Egypt shut down internet access on Thursday night, activists
were posting and exchanging messages using social networking services
such as Facebook and Twitter, listing more than 30 mosques and churches
where protesters were to organise on Friday.
"Egypt's Muslims and Christians will go out to fight against
corruption, unemployment and oppression and absence of freedom," a page
with more than 70,000 signatories said. The Associated Press
news agency reported that an elite special counterterrorism force had
been deployed at strategic points around Cairo, and Egypt's interior
ministry warned of "decisive measures". Safwat Sherif, the
secretary-general of the ruling National Democratic Party, told
reporters on Thursday: "We hope that tomorrow's Friday prayers and its
rituals happen in a quiet way that upholds the value of such rituals ...
and that no one jeopardises the safety of citizens or subjects them to
something they do not want." Meanwhile, a lawyer for the Muslim Brotherhood said that 20 members of the officially banned group had been detained overnight. Abdel-Moniem
Abdel-Maksoud said two of the most senior movement members were
detained: Essam El-Erian, its main spokesman, and Mohammed Moursi, a
prominent Brotherhood leader.
On Thursday, protesters hurled petrol bombs at a fire station in
Suez, setting it ablaze. They tried but failed to set fire to a local
office of the ruling National Democratic Party. At another rally near
Giza on the outskirts of Cairo, police used tear gas to break up
hundreds of protesters late at night.
Cairo, normally vibrant on a Thursday night ahead of the weekend, was
largely deserted, with shops and restaurants shut. In the city
of Ismailia, hundreds of protesters clashed with police who used tear
gas and batons to disperse them.
"This is a revolution," one 16-year-old protester said in Suez . "Every day we're coming back here."
"The intensity continues to increase," Al Jazeera's Jamal Elshayyal reported from Suez.
"There have been fierce clashes with rubber-coated steel bullets being fired by the riot police as well as tear gas."
Human Rights Watch said Egyptian police had escalated the use of
force against largely peaceful demonstrations and called it "wholly
unacceptable and disproportionate".
Barack Obama, the US president, urged both the government and
protesters to show restraint as they expressed their "pent-up
frustrations". Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, had earlier said
that the protests offered the Mubarak government an opportunity to
institute social, economic, and political reforms.
"It is very important that people have mechanisms in order to express
legitimate grievances," Obam said as he answered questions from an
online audience on the YouTube website.
Obama also urged Mubarak to make changes to the political system to appease the angry protesters.
"I've always said to him that making sure that they are moving
forward on reform - political reform, economic reform - is absolutely
critical for the long-term well-being of Egypt."