A million people are expected to march through the streets of Cairo tomorrow, as the public protests continue against embattled Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.
Mubarak swore in a new government ministry yesterday in an attempt to quell rising tensions, including a new interior minister with a strong military background, but the minor reforms haven’t slowed the demonstrations.
Instead citizens are preparing for the “million man march,” the biggest show of public discontent since protests began. Critically, the army has confirmed it will not use force against demonstrators and “freedom of expression” was guaranteed for all peaceful citizen protestors.
The statement from the army seems to show a solidarity with protesters, a steep contrast from jets and helicopters flying over the city as a show of force and military forces firing on demonstrators, leaving 138 citizens reportedly killed so far:
“The presence of the army in the streets is for your sake and to ensure your safety and well-being. The armed forces will not resort to use of force against our great people.”
Vice-president Omar Suleiman offered to talk with protesters about constitutional and legislative reforms, in what appears to be an attempt to blunt the crucial announcement by the army. So far it isn’t clear exactly who Suleiman is offering to speak to — the fragmented political opposition?
While the calls for Mubarak’s dismissal continue, questions are being raised over whether the “notoriously fractious” Opposition can unite and lead the country, and whether the protesting masses will support them.
“But many Egyptians say it’s a little too late for that,” reports Kristen Chick in the Christian Science Monitor. “They’re indifferent to attempts to capitalise on a victory won by their own hand — and it is not certain that they will rally around Mohammed ElBaradei, the former head of the UN nuclear watchdog agency who is now emerging as the opposition’s designated negotiator.”
How will the passionate protests end? Who will take control? “Who will speak for people who have never had a voice?” asks Anthony Shadid in the New York Times.
As Mohammed Nagi, a 30-year-old protester told the New York Times: “We don’t want ElBaradei or the Muslim Brotherhood, and we don’t want the ruling party…You feel like everyone is walking on his own, speaking for himself, because there’s no group that represents us.”
About 250,000 citizens demonstrated in Cairo’s Tahrir Square yesterday, with hundreds camping overnight defying the government’s curfew. One Al-Jazeera journo reported: “Protesters say they’ll stay in this square for as long as Mubarak stays in power.”
News network Al-Jazeera has been caught in the media crackdown, with the Egyptian government doing everything possible to shut it down, including suspending operations, cancelling its licences and removing accreditations. Six Al-Jazeera journalists were arrested and had their broadcasting equipment seized.
Dan Nolan, an Australian journalist working for Al-Jazeera, was one of those arrested, after soldiers entered the hotel where much of the international media was staying. He livetweeted the event, which makes for chilling reading:
@nolanjazeera 4 soldiers entered room took our camera. Wr ae under military arrest
@nolanjazeera Unsure if arrested or about to be deported. 6 of us held at army checkpoint outside Hilton hotel. Equipment seized too.
@nolanjazeera Losing my phone now. Think we are ok.
@nolanjazeera We’re okay, they held us for 3 hours, we’ve been released, took cameras, laptops and phones
Despite this, the network is doing an amazing job at getting reports out, with numerous Al-Jazeera journalists such as Nolan continuing to tweet and file audio news updates and four large screens erected in the middle of Cairo broadcasting Al-Jazeera networks.
“Thoughts so far tonight: Similar # of protesters in Tahrir Square as last night; tanks have mostly left, army presence is reduced,” tweeted Al-Jazeera journo Gregg Carlstrom, who offered a good take on proceedings overnight.
“Token numbers of police directing traffic at major intersections, but otherwise streets still controlled by army + ordinary citizens,” added Carlstrom.
“Man sitting on trash-filled, burned-out car. Sign: ‘Here’s the new National Democratic Party HQ.’,” tweeted Carlstrom.
For further visuals of the unfolding crisis, the New York Times has an incredible photo gallery that covers the past six days of protests, including damaged shopping centres, packed airports full of citizens desperate to leave and riot police clashing with demonstrators.
As much of the country remains disconnected from the internet, Google is trying to keep Egyptians connected to social media.
“Like many people we’ve been glued to the news unfolding in Egypt and thinking of what we could do to help people on the ground,” write Ujjwal Singh and AbdelKarim Mardin on the Google blog. “Over the weekend we came up with the idea of a speak-to-tweet service — the ability for anyone to tweet using just a voice connection.”
It’s a simple but clever idea of using old technology to engage with new technology. Egyptians can ring one of several international phone numbers and leave a voicemail and then voicemail service will instantly tweet the message — as an audio file — with the #egypt hashtag. To listen to the messages, follow twitter.com/speak2tweet, although obviously most messages are in Arabic.
But here’s one in English, posted this morning by an animated young woman named Mona in Cairo:
“I just want to let the world know that we have been disconnected from our last point of communication through the internet and there’s a strong word going around that we will be again disconnected from mobile phone calls. I wanted everyone to know, in case you don’t get any feedback from what’s happening tomorrow, I didn’t want anyone to worry about us.
They did this before, the only difference is that the last time they did this I was completely freaked out, I was so scared that they are going to like shoot us all and nobody would know about it. This time, I am not scared at all. I feel as if I want to tell them bring it on. We are excited, we are happy, we are going to be in the Tahrir Square tomorrow, we are going to be huge and we are going to do our march and do our protest and Mubarak is going out. Be with us.”