Exactly as Egyptian democracy protesters feared, Hosni Mubarak has moved to crush his opponents by unleashing a widespread attempt to intimidate demonstrators. In the past 12 hours:
- Organised groups of pro-Mubarak demonstrators have attacked protesters with stones, Molotov cocktails co-ordinated with laser pointers by security officials and even camel charges. Democracy protesters have fought back in kind and currently continue to maintain a presence in Tahrir Square behind barricades, despite pro-Mubarak efforts to drive them out with burning vehicles. At one stage, democracy protesters charged Mubarak supporters and drove them entirely from their positions, but a short time ago a stalemate seems to have developed. Up to three deaths and 1500 injuries have so far been reported.
- Captured pro-Mubarak thugs have been found with police ID and Egyptians report being offered money to participate in pro-government demonstrations. Pro-Mubarak demonstrators also attacked at least 10 local and foreign journalists. Mubarak’s resort to force was expected by many protesters, as the tactic of deploying government-backed thugs has been used regularly by Mubarak and other Middle Eastern regimes. For days, rumours have swirled that prisoners were being freed from jail by Egyptian police in order to participate in attacks on protesters.
- A message sent via the restored Vodaphone mobile network, apparently to large numbers of Egyptians, urged them to attend pro-Mubarak rallies. There are now calls to boycott Vodaphone for its co-operation with the regime.
- New Egyptian vice-president Omar Suleiman, charged yesterday with conducting negotiations with opposition groups, announced there would be no negotiations at all unless all demonstrations ended.
- The Obama Administration, still playing catch-up with events on the ground, hardened its rhetoric to make clear that the “orderly transition” it referred to yesterday, and that it had implied it had negotiated with Mubarak, was meant to start immediately, not later in the year — a position now explicitly rejected by Egyptian government officials. However, it appeared to refuse to acknowledge that Mubarak was responsible for the developing violence. US conservatives appeared to be abandoning Mubarak, with John McCain calling for Mubarak to step down.
- Tony Blair described Mubarak as “immensely courageous and a force for good“.
- There are now major demonstrations planned for Yemen today, Syria on Saturday, Algeria on February 12, Bahrain on February 14 and Libya on February 17.