1 Feb 2011

Mubarak regime on brink as Army backs the people

International Editor

President Mubarak’s 30 year rule in Egypt could be coming to an end – troops have removed the guns from their tanks, reports Channel 4 News International Editor Lindsey Hilsum.

A statement was made on Egyptian public television on Monday night, reading: “Your Armed Forces, who are aware of the legitimacy of your demands, affirm that freedom of expression through peaceful means is guaranteed to everbody.”

Mujahadeen: the magic word

Lindsey Hilsum, who is in Alexandria, spoke to the First Lietenant there, who told her that they have orders to take the guns from their tanks; and they are doing so.

She said: “Alexandria is peaceful and sunny this morning and the soldiers in their tanks guarding the street corners are taking down their guns. They’ve been told not only not to shoot, but to make sure that everybody knows that they’re not even going to display their weapons.

“Last night after curfew, we drove through the town and every few yards there was a road block – a few chairs, a ladder, maybe some bins. Some of the vigilantes didn’t seem older than 12 or 13. We’re being taken around by a young man who is a member of one one the Popular Committees which seem to run Alexandria after dark.

Murbarak regime on brink as Army backs the people - Reuters

“He has been given a password – Mujahadeen – and so we said that on every road block and immediatedly got waves and smiles. The Army are also very friendly, although not that keen on being filmed.

“No one knows what’s going to happen later today. The people I met in Martyr’s Square last night said that many more people would be turning out. Some of them were going to sit there all night. They feel that the Army – unlike the police – is on their side. All over town there are graffiti saying, ‘Mubrarak must go’, and on one bus shelter in Arabic, it is written: ‘The Egyptian people are great, but their president is very stupid.'”

Protesters in Egypt will hold a “march of a million people” on Tuesday – set to be the biggest so far – calling for President Mubarak to stand down, amid calls from the British government for an “orderly transition” to free and fair elections.

LIVE BLOG: Egypt protests

Slogans on Egypt's protesters' placards

"If you let go, we'll let go"
"It's the liar that says the demonstrations are small"
"Leave, Mubarak, Tel Aviv is your home"
"Remove Mubarak and replace him with a sheep"
"Mr Obama, don't bet on a loser"

The Foreign Office said: “A major demonstration is planned for 1 February with calls for one million people to take part in central Cairo.

“Similar, although smaller, demonstrations are expected in other major cities around Egypt.

“British nationals should observe instructions and advice by local security authorities and avoid public gatherings and disturbances.”

After EU talks in Brussels with foreign ministers last night, Foreign Secretary William Hague said: “We are seeking the orderly transition to a broad-based government of free and fair elections, and I think these conclusions are part of a very clear message from EU nations – a message to the Egyptian regime to get on with it and satisfy the aspirations of their own people.”

‘Not interfering’

He said the EU was not interfering in political arguments within Egypt, but acknowledged there was a danger that anything other than an “orderly” transition at the top could mean more dictatorship, rather than more democracy, saying: “There is a risk of extremist politics taking a greater hold, with a more authoritarian system being adopted.

Washington also said Mubarak must revoke the emergency law under which he has ruled since 1981. It has sent a special envoy, former ambassador to Cairo Frank Wisner, to meet Egyptian leaders. “The way Egypt looks and operates must change,” said Robert Gibbs, spokesman for President Barack Obama.

The Foreign Office is advising against all but essential travel to Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor and Suez and recommends that British nationals without a pressing need to be in Cairo, Alexandria or Suez leave by commercial means where it is safe to do so.

Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt said the majority of Britons who wanted to had managed to leave.

About 30 Britons were expected to leave Egypt today after spending the night in the terminal at Cairo. Up to 20 consular staff were at the airport, some sleeping there to help those stranded. The Government has not chartered planes to evacuate nationals, unlike the United States.

Number 10 said the travel advice remained under review in a fast-moving situation.

Meanwhile, as the last of Egypt’s internet service providers went offline, Google announced a way of overcoming the internet blockade with a “speak-to-tweet” service.

The Google blog said people could leave and listen to messages by dialling various international phone numbers, adding: “We hope that this will go some way to helping people in Egypt stay connected at this very difficult time. Our thoughts are with everyone there.”