3 Feb 2011

Egypt: bitter and bloody battle in central Cairo

President Mubarak says Egypt will descend into chaos if he resigns now – but as ten die in the battle between Mubarak supporters and pro-democracy protesters, Jon Snow in Cairo says it already has.

More than 800 people have also been injured after pro-Mubarak supporters turned on the demonstrators who have been peacefully demonstrating against his rule, poverty and hardship, across Egypt for the last ten days.

The protesters want the President to stand down now – but he said in an interview tonight with ABC News that he feared chaos if he did that. He also insisted that he was “fed up”, after years of service to his country, and had always intended to step down ahead of the vote in September.

“I want to go,” the 82-year old said, but added: “If I resign today, there will be chaos.”

He blamed the violence in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on his opponents in the Muslim Brotherhood, and said: “I don’t care what people say about me. Right now I care about my country, I care about Egypt…I would never run away. I will die on this soil.”

I don’t care what people say about me. Right now I care about Egypt. I would never run away. President Hosni Mubarak

The clashes began on Wednesday, the day after the President pledged he would stand down at the next elections in September. His supporters came to the square armed with sticks, rocks and clubs in an attempt to oust the protesters.

For the latest developments follow the Channel 4 News Live Blog

Around 10,000 protesters remained in Tahrir Square in central Cairo all day, despite the presence of the army, with many planning to stay overnight. Journalists and human rights workers have been attacked in the chaos and at least ten people have died.

Channel 4 News Presenter Jon Snow, in Cairo, said the city had become a place of “anarchy and random violence” and he feared developments on Friday, when both pro and anti-Mubarak groups plan to march on the Presidential palace in the “Day of Departure” demonstration.

New Egyptian Vice-President Omar Suleiman – seen as a possible interim successor to Mubarak – pledged to punish all those involved in causing violence and to release peaceful protesters who had been detained. He also indicated that Mubarak’s son Gamal would not run in the September elections, and criticised foreign interference in Egypt.

In a move which Channel 4 News Correspondent Jonathan Rugman described as “desperation”, he also offered to negotiate with the Muslim Brotherhood, who are a banned political party, and Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed El Baradei. However, they have refused to negotiate unless Mubarak resigns.

Actor Khalid Abdalla, a British Egyptian, spent the night in Tahrir Square – he has had 90 minutes sleep and has a cracked head because he was hit by a stone.

I saw someone who died with a gunshot wound to his head. Mubarak is as grotesque a dictator as any there has been and day after day he proves that. Actor Khalid Abdalla, who is in Tahrir Square

He told Channel 4 News: “I myself saw someone who died with a gunshot wound to his head being taken into an ambulance. We were subjected to a very long night into dawn of psychological and physical violence. By this morning the levels of deaths and injuries were very high and unprecedented for us.

Egypt's Tahrir Square: battles between pro and anti Mubarak groups continue (Reuters)

“I’m now standing in Tahrir Square everywhere I look is full – it’s so full you can’t see it in a camera because there’s no angle that gets us all. The whole day we’ve been under siege as we were last night…they’ve been stopping medical supplies getting in. A very good friend of mine was an eyewitness to the fact that they were stopping injured people, who were moving about in taxis, and taking them out and beating them.

“He (Mubarak) is a grotesque a dictator as any there has been and day after day he proves that.I strongly believe that we in Britain and we in the West have to ask ourselves why we have supported this man when this is what he is.”

The Egyptian Army is now responding to the violence of the pro-Mubarak supporters, and has set up buffer zones between the rival protesters. Its tanks continue to line the streets and there has been some gunfire as pro-Mubarak supporters throw Molotov cocktails. Doctors are struggling to treat victims in makeshift hospitals all over Cairo, and the streets are currently too dangerous to go outside, our Correspondents in Cairo said.

Channel 4 News speaks to protesters and doctors in Egypt

Jonathan Rugman said: “Central Cairo has become a warzone. This standoff is now so dangerous that many of those reporting it are trapped in their hotels.

“This morning the army set up a buffer zone between the two sides. But the tanks and soldiers are caught in the middle. Nobody seems in control of anything here and the police have hardly been seen in days…But much of this violence and the attempts to stop us reporting it seems orchestrated by the state. In a crude attempt to scotch this uprising and save the Mubarak presidency because everything else has failed.”


The newly reshuffled Government continues to stand by President Mubarak, who is painting himself as the only obstacle standing between Egypt and continued lawlessness.

The new Prime Minister, Ahmed Shafiq, and Vice-President Suleiman have both apologised for the violence and promised to avoid a repeat – but the clashes continue.

'Egypt: the man staring at me made a throat-slitting gesture' 
Someone spotted us and didn't like it – whereupon a screaming crowd of about sixty descended upon us, writes Channel 4 News International Editor from Alexandria.

Banging on the car, trying to drag us out and reaching through the open windows of the front to hit our driver and cameraman. I clamped my left hand on the old fashioned stick lock on the back door and dug the nails of my right hand into the arms reaching around trying to force it open.

I looked at the baying mob through the window and the man staring at me made a throat-slitting gesture. Not nice.

Read more from Lindsey Hilsum's blog on the attack in Egypt

International pressure

Leaders across the globe joined forces today to insist that the violence must stop in the country of 80 million people, and said the transition must begin.

In a joint statement, the leaders of Britain, France, Germany and Italy said: “This process of transition must start now.”

Unrest elsewhere across the Middle East: from Tunisia to Jordan

All of the leaders echoed the message US President Barack Obama said he gave Mubarak in a phone call on Tuesday. US officials also condemned what they called a “concerted campaign to intimidate” journalists, after many were attacked by government loyalists.

Amnesty International said one of their workers had been detained in Cairo along with a Human Rights Watch representative.

Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty said: “We call for the immediate and safe release of our colleagues and others with them who should be able to monitor the human rights situation in Egypt at this crucial time without fear of harassment or detention.”

Brits in Egypt
According to the Prime Minister, there are around 3,000 Britons in Cairo, 300 Britons in Alexandria, 30,000 Britons in Red Sea resorts.

The tourist resorts in the Red Sea areas remain calm and largely unaffected by the violence.

One thousand Britons have left the country over the past two days. A charter flight organised by the Foreign Office is due to leave Cairo today with more than 180 British nationals on board. They've also scheduled a second charter plane to leave Cairo on Saturday, in addition to commercial flights.


Mobile phone communications, and the internet, have been key to organising the protests. At certain points the authorities have closed down both means of communication – but in some cases it appears that the mobile phone networks have been used by the authorities to get their message to the Egyptian people, supposedly when communications were down.

In a statement, Vodafone said: “Under the emergency powers provisions of the Telecoms Act, the Egyptian authorities can instruct the mobile networks of Mobinil, Etisalat and Vodafone to send messages to the people of Egypt. They have used this since the start of the protests. These messages are not scripted by any of the mobile phone network operators and we do not have the ability to respond to the authorities on their content.

“Vodafone Group has protested to the authorities that the current situation regarding these messages is unacceptable. We have made clear that all messages should be transparent and clearly attributable to the originator.”

Read more from Channel 4 News: Is there a coup brewing in the Egyptian Army? 
Mubarak's enforcer: Who Knows Who on Omar Suleiman