1:15:White House spokesman Robert Gibbs:
“The time for a transition has come, and that time is now.”
Things are turning violent in Egypt, and the provocation is coming from pro-government forces.
The Egyptian military has told protesters to go home, that with Hosni Mubarak’s pledge not to seek re-election, their message has been heard and heeded. Protesters have concluded that no, that’s not quite what has happened, and they decided to stay.
So this morning, an organized, orchestrated effort by a large number of pro-Mubarak protesters began to push the anti-Mubarak groups out of Tahrir Square in Cairo. A few minutes ago, for example, Mubarak allies launched an assault of 40 to 50 riders on horses and camels into the anti-government demonstrators. Some of the riders were pulled from their mounts and beaten.
Here’s a Youtube video of the pro-Mubarak forces, many of them mounted, others carrying weapons, surging toward the square.
The Egyptian military is reportedly standing by watching the violence.
8:25: People are digging up rocks from the pavement to use as weapons. According to one Egyptian witness, the pro-Mubarak forces “carry large well-made banners – replicas of the banners that are used in the rigged elections, proclaiming for Mubarak.” In other words, this is a well-coordinated counterattack.
8:45: It’s pretty stunning how quickly all this has played out, and I’m not referring just to this morning’s events. A few weeks ago, the idea that the Mubarak government would be teetering today, along with that of Jordan, Yemen and perhaps others, would have been all but inconceivable. If you ensure that change can’t occur gradually, you ensure that it will come all at once.
8:59: Gunshots can be heard now.
9:04: Mohamed ElBaradei: This is “a criminal act done by a criminal regime”.
9:16 Fox News interviewing Mitch McConnell on health care repeal? Really?
9:33 I’m seeing reports that the pro-gov forces have essentially sealed the exits from the square. That could be very ominous, because it doesn’t happen by accident.
9:56: There’s no real doubt that this is government-sponsored, government-driven and government-planned violence. And however it shakes out, that poses a real challenge to the Obama administration in the days ahead. Do they cut off aid? Break relations? Having sided publicly with Mubarak’s ouster, what do you do now that he has turned to violence against his own people to stay in power?
10:04: Ali Jomaa, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, tells all Egyptians to go home.
“I greet President Mubarak who offered dialogue and responded to the demands of the people. Going against legitimacy is forbidden (Haram).
This is an invitation for chaos. We support stability. What we have now is a blind chaos leading to a civil war. I call on all parents to ask their children to stay home.”
10:13: British PM David Cameron:
“These are despicable scenes that are we are seeing and they should not be repeated. They are underline the need for political reform and frankly for that political reform to be accelerated….
If it turns out that the regime in any way has sponsored or tolerated this violence, that is completely unacceptable.”
10:19: Al Jazeera producer on scene:
“They are throwing Molotov cocktails at the anti-Mubarak protesters. The army has backed off from the Corniche – they used to have a few tanks on the beachfront road, but they have pulled out now.”
10:45: Darkness starting to fall in Cairo; Molotov cocktails raining down on protesters from surrounding buildings. This is going to get very bad.
11:10: multiple, multiple reports of media — foreign and Egyptian — being targeted for violence.
Sherine Tadros, Al Jazeerah English, Tweet:
“right in middle of clashes. I’ve been hit in the face. huge stampedes. Rocks flying. Crazy atmosphere.”
11:16: From the Guardian blog (UK), regarding a Tweet by State Dep’t spokesman PJ Crowley, and they have a point:
“US State Department spokesman PJ Crowley has infuriated people with his appeal for “all sides in #Egypt to show restraint and avoid violence”.
Here is just a sample of the reaction on Twitter:
Did @PJCrowley really call on all sides to stop the violence?? All sides!!!!!!!?? Is the USG watching Egyptian State TV’s coverage today?
Dear @PJCrowley, You are a coward. Dear #SecClinton, You are a coward. @BarackObama this is your Rwanda moment #Jan25 #Egypt
If u support the ppl of #Egypt and want Hosni Mubarak out pls tell the state dept @PJCrowley to stop their idiotic statements
@pjcrowley,@barakobama,@statedepartment what are you doing to help us, we’re being killed by Mubarak in Tahrir, long live US Freedom!!!!!
11:32: Tweet from scene:
@allawati: Just saw a foreign journalist being chased by a mob with weapons. He was alone. They got him. God help him.
12:00: The lights have been shut off at Tahrir Square, and all exits have been closed. The panic and desperation of those trapped and under attack there can only be imagined.
12:17> From Nick Kristof’s blog at NYTimes:
“In my area of Tahrir, the thugs were armed with machetes, straight razors, clubs and stones. And they all had the same chants, the same slogans and the same hostility to journalists. They clearly had been organized and briefed. So the idea that this is some spontaneous outpouring of pro-Mubarak supporters, both in Cairo and in Alexandria, who happen to end up clashing with other side — that is preposterous. It’s difficult to know what is happening, and I’m only one observer, but to me these seem to be organized thugs sent in to crack heads, chase out journalists, intimidate the pro-democracy forces and perhaps create a pretext for an even harsher crackdown.”
From an eyewitness posting at the UK’s Guardian:
“The first act of violence I saw was a family crossing street into Tahrir Square and a car passed by with a group of women and suddenly they got out of the car and started cursing, intimidating and throwing stones as they ran after the family harassing them and other people. We started creating human chain around the square and inside the square we were putting signs calling it “Shuhada Square” (Martyr Square) to remember the 300 people who died so far. Peace was maintained inside the square. We decided to take a break and go home. As we are walking away from the square, suddenly I see pro Mubarak protesters on horses and camels riding down from Talaat Harb Square toward us, cursing me and my husband. They had whips and all kinds of weapons on them. I called to check on my friends who’d stayed in Tahrir Square and they began to shout that they are being beaten – my friend described to me what she was seeing: a 7-year-old-boy was wounded by stones thrown at him by the pro Mubarak campaigners. The anti Mubarak camp kept chanting: Peaceful. Peaceful. Peaceful but the pro camp kept pushing in and they had all kinds of weapons on them and the stone throwing fight began. In the meantime, all they have on national TV is a broadcast of peaceful protesters chanting pro-mubarak [slogans] and callers calling in blaming everything on the anti-Mubarak protests and saying that they deserve whatever happens to them because they didn’t stop.”
– Jay Bookman