Egypt tense after night of unrest

Protesters begin to gather across country, after ordinary citizens battled looters in their neighbourhoods overnight.

Last Modified: 30 Jan 2011 08:36 GMT

Egyptians have woken up to another tense day following a night of turmoil, when looters roamed the streets in the absence of police who had melted away after being unable to cope with unprecedented anti-government protests.

Several key buildings in the capital, Cairo, continued to smoulder on Sunday morning, as protesters calling for the resignation of Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, begun to gather once again on the streets of the capital and in Alexandria.

Main roads in Cairo have been blocked by military tanks and armoured personnel carriers.

Reporting from Cairo on Sunday, Al Jazeera’s Dan Nolan said it is a “long way from business as usual” in the Egyptian capital on the first working day since protests peaked on Friday.

He said that extra military roadblocks have been set up in an apparent attempt to divert traffic away from Tahrir Square, which has been a focal point for demonstrators.

“It’s still a very tense scene to have so much military in the capital city of the country.”

Earlier in the morning, Al Jazeera’s Jane Dutton, also in Cairo, reported that the city appeared deserted in the early hours.

“The streets are very dirty, there is debris everywhere. The police have just disappeared. Any security at this stage is in the hands of the army.”

The absence of police has given looters a free rein, forcing ordinary citizens to set up neighbourhood patrols.

“Vigilantes have been taking to the streets to try and prevent people from looting. We’re hearing stories of widespread looting across many cities … [local neighbourhood patrols] haven’t been very effective,” Dutton added.

Nolan added that there are frequent reports of the police being complicit in the looting.

According to Dina Magdi, an eyewitness, unidentified men on Sunday came out of the interior ministry compound in a car and dumped a body on a street. They then opened fire on people present in the area and fled. There were no immediate reports of casualties in that attack.

‘Chaotic’ scenes

Al Jazeera’s sources have indicated that the military has now also been deployed to the resort town of Sharm el Shaikh.

Sherine Tadros, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in the city of Suez, said the city had witnessed a “completely chaotic night”, but that the streets were quiet as day broke.

She reported that in the absence of police and military, people were “tak[ing] the law into their own hands”, using “clubs, batons, sticks, machetes [and] knives” to protect their property.

“People are trying to get back to normal, but of course this is anything but,” she said, adding that as the day wore on, the military had set up several checkposts in an attempt to “show people that they are here and … will provide some kind of security”.

Rawya Rageh, our correspondent in the port city of Alexandria, reported similar scenes, saying that people were particularly concerned about their personal safety and that of their property.

She reported that the military in Alexandria was not focusing on protesters, attempting instead to prevent any further damage or theft of property.

Amid the chaos, there were indications that protests seeking Mubarak’s resignation would continue.

Dutton said that protesters are unlikely to stop demonstrating across the country, as they “want one thing, and one thing only: they want the leadership to go”.

International pressure

Meanwhile, global powers have urged Mubarak to refrain from violence against unarmed protesters and to work to create conditions for free and fair elections.

The US told Mubarak on Saturday that it was not enough simply to “reshuffle the deck” with a shake-up of his government and pressed him to make good on his promise of genuine reform.

“The Egyptian government can’t reshuffle the deck and then stand pat,” PJ Crowley, the US State Department’s spokesman, said in a message on Twitter after Mubarak fired his government but made clear he had no intention of stepping down.

“President Mubarak’s words pledging reform must be followed by action,” Crowley said, echoing Obama’s appeal on Friday for Mubarak to embrace a new political dynamic.

In a statement released in Berlin on Saturday, the leaders of Britain, France and Germany said they were “deeply worried about the events in Egypt”.

“We call on President Mubarak to renounce any violence against unarmed civilians and to recognise the demonstrators’ peaceful rights,” the joint statement said.

The European trio appealed to Mubarak to respond to his people’s grievances and take steps to improve the human rights situation in the country.

Benyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, on Sunday told cabinet ministers that Israel was “closely monitoring” events in Egypt, adding: “Our goal is to maintain stability and ensure that peace between us and Egypt continues to exist with any development.”

The Gulf Cooperation Council, a loose economic and political bloc of states in the Gulf, said on Sunday that it wanted a “stable Egypt”.

“We are looking for a stable Egypt and hoping things will be restored soon,” Abdulrahman al-Attiyah, the GCC’s secretary general, said on the sidelines of a Malaysian investment forum. He also downplayed concerns about the possible economic fallout of the unrest.

The US embassy in Cairo has advised all Americans currently in Egypt to consider leaving as soon as possible, given the unrest.

Key appointments

The appointments, however, failed to satisfy protesters.The international messages came hours after Mubarak appointed the country’s head of intelligence to the post of vice-president, in a move said to be a reaction to days of anti-government protests in cities across the country.

Omar Suleiman, Egypt’s chief spy, was sworn in on Saturday, marking the first time Mubarak has appointed a vice-president during his 30-year rule. Ahmad Shafiq, a former air force commander, was appointed prime minister.

Tens of thousands of people continued to rally in the capital Cairo on Saturday, demanding an end to Mubarak’s presidency.

More than a 150 people have been killed in the violence since Friday.


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