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Feb 2nd, 2011

Egypt Crisis: Gunfire Erupts in Central Cairo

Supporters loyal to President Mubarak reportedly open fire on protesters in Tahrir Square

Image: Clashes outside the National Museum in Cairo
Pro-government protesters at left clash with anti-government protesters outside the National Museum near Tahrir Square in Cairo early Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011. Opponents and supporters of Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak fought with fists, stones and clubs in Cairo. (Photo credit: Yannis Behrakis / Reuters)

Feb. 2, 2011

Cairo, Egypt — Heavy gunfire reverberated in central Cairo before dawn Thursday as supporters and foes of embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak continued to face off at Tahrir Square, where chunks of concrete and Molotov cocktails were employed as weapons in the escalating crisis.

CNN personnel saw wounded people being carried into Tahrir Square, largely held by anti-regime demonstrators, through an entrance that leads to the nearby Egyptian Museum. Several ambulances entered and left the square shortly before 4 a.m. Thursday. …

Sustained automatic weapons fire, including from what sounded like a heavy machine gun, echoed around the square, the epicenter of nine days of protests calling for Mubarak’s ouster.

Anti-government demonstrators hunkered down behind makeshift barricades in the square and outside the nearby national museum against the onslaught, which demonstrators said included plainclothes police officers. …

The pro-government protesters were not impeded by the army when they entered the square, CNN’s Ben Wedeman said early Thursday. …

Small fires burned in the square early Thursday, some spreading to trees and walls.

Egypt’s health ministry reported three people were killed and 639 were wounded in Wednesday’s clashes, according to the state television network. Reported fatalities in the previous eight days of demonstrations ranged as high as 300, but CNN has not been able to independently confirm the death toll.

In one surreal moment, whip-wielding Mubarak supporters thundered through the crowd astride horses and camels, and at least one man was pulled off his mount and beaten. A Mubarak supporter who spoke to CNN said the riders were pyramid workers who were protesting the negative economic impact of the crisis. …

But some observers said the pro-Mubarak push Wednesday was likely orchestrated by a regime bent on breaking up peaceful demonstrations.

“These are tactics that are well-known in Egypt,” Michele Dunne, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told CNN’s John King.

Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution said the “rent-a-thugs” were likely sanctioned and paid by the government. This is meant to create an image of chaos so the government can move in to restore order, he said. …

As night fell, the sound of gunfire reverberated in Tahrir Square, the name of which means “liberation” in Arabic. People hurled verbal insults, Molotov cocktails, rocks and anything else they could find — shards of metal, sticks, shoes — at one another.

Desperate for more ammunition, they dismantled sidewalks and picked up chunks of cement to throw. They beat each other in what rapidly spiraled into utter mayhem. …

It was unclear whether such confrontations were being repeated elsewhere. Other Cairo neighborhoods were calm, and rallies in Egypt’s second-largest city, Alexandria, were largely peaceful.

Mubarak’s opponents had stood shoulder to shoulder in Tahrir Square to call for his immediate resignation in a massive rally on Tuesday. The 82-year-old president’s announcement that night that he would spend the remaining seven months of his current term working to ensure a “peaceful transition of power” failed to satisfy them, and they vowed to keep up the pressure on him to resign.

The crisis has paralyzed the Egyptian economy, as the government has closed banks, idled trains and shuttered schools. Markets are running short of basic food staples, and the situation is hurting the ability of ordinary citizens to join the demonstrations, opposition activist Ziad Aly told CNN. …

Vice President Omar Suleiman reiterated the government stance that the people have been heard, that they should go home and that they should stop demonstrating. …

The state-run television network, Nile TV, sought to portray the unrest as a “foreign conspiracy” fueled by international journalists, several of whom — including CNN’s Anderson Cooper — were attacked during Wednesday’s clashes.

Despite reports that shots had been fired, Nile TV’s reporters denied any shooting had taken place or even that violence had broken out in Tahrir Square. The network also said that members of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood were heading to the square “to throw balls of fire and to start acts of riots and violence.”

When asked if that were true, Mohamed Morsy, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, said the action came from all segments of the Egyptian people, “not the Muslim Brotherhood only.” …

The Egyptian crisis is among the aftershocks of the revolt in Tunisia that forced that nation’s longtime strongman to flee to Saudi Arabia in mid-January. In Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh — who has been in office for 32 years — said Wednesday he will not run for president nor hand over power to his son once his current term ends in 2013.


CNN situation reports

Image: Pro-government demonstrators, below, and anti-government demonstrators, above, clash in Cairo
Pro-government demonstrators, below, and anti-government demonstrators, above, clash in Cairo, Feb. 2, 2011. (Photo credit: Ben Curtis / AP)

Cairo Street Battles Echo Past Midnight

Feb. 2, 2011

[Update 4:51 a.m. Thursday in Cairo, 9:51 p.m. ET Wednesday] CNN’s Ivan Watson, reporting on the gunfire that was heard in central Cairo minutes ago, said it took place along the barricaded edges of Tahrir Square, where anti-government protesters stayed through the night, facing off with pro-government people. CNN personnel are seeing wounded being carried into Tahrir Square from the Egyptian Museum entrance to the square. Ambulances also are coming into the square. Watson reported that he could hear both automatic gunfire and single shots, and that perhaps six young men — possibly wounded — were carried away.

[Update 4:33 a.m. Thursday in Cairo, 9:33 p.m. ET Wednesday] Heavy gunfire reverberated in central Cairo early Thursday as anti- and pro-government protesters continued to face off at Tahrir Square.

[Update 2:21 a.m. Thursday in Cairo, 7:21 p.m. ET Wednesday] At least three fires are burning outside Cairo’s Egyptian Museum as people supporting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak throw Molotov cocktails toward anti-Mubarak protesters, CNN’s Anderson Cooper reports. The number in the pro-Mubarak crowd has dwindled, and anti-Mubarak protesters — having slowly advanced behind tall sheets of metal — have controlled the area in front of the museum near Tahrir Square for the past few hours. Anti-Mubarak protesters have been banging on the metal into the night. Some of them are having to dodge Molotov cocktails thrown by the other side, Cooper said. … Sustained automatic weapons fire also could be heard early Thursday around Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the epicenter of nine days of protests calling for Mubarak’s ouster.

[Update 12:16 a.m. Thursday in Cairo, 5:16 p.m. ET Wednesday] People protesting against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak appear to have pushed pro-Mubarak crowds away from Cairo’s Egyptian Museum, though the two sides still are clashing, with Molotov cocktails being thrown, CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Ivan Watson report. Molotov cocktails have been thrown for hours. A few vehicles have been set on fire in front of the museum. The military is there, but is not doing much other than putting out fires in front of the museum, Watson said.

[Update 11:50 p.m. Cairo, 4:50 p.m. ET] The Cairo bureau chief for Al-Arabiya tells CNN that protesters beat two Al-Arabiya reporters and harassed a third in separate incidents Wednesday. In one incident in Giza, people stole an Al-Arabiya reporter’s watch and beat him — he eventually was rescued and taken to a hospital, where he was in an intensive care unit, the bureau chief said. In a second incident, in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, a reporter was “beaten like hell” after he identified himself as working for Al-Arabiya, the bureau chief said.

[Update 11:35 p.m. Cairo, 4:35 p.m. ET] Late Wednesday, anti-Mubarak protesters near the Egyptian Museum were appearing to be gaining more ground in their clashes with the president’s supporters, CNN’s Anderson Cooper reported. It remained unclear whether such confrontations were being repeated elsewhere. A state-run Nile TV flashed a warning ordering people to adhere to a government-imposed curfew and clear out of Tahrir Square, but a crowd — though a less intense one — remained in the downtown plaza into the night.

[Update 10:07 p.m. Cairo, 3:06 p.m. ET] Some of the protesters on the streets of Cairo are now targeting journalists. A Belgian reporter on Wednesday was arrested, beaten and accused of being a spy by men in plain clothes in the central Cairo neighborhood of Choubra, and in Tahrir Square, journalists from the BBC, ABC News and CNN — including CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Hala Gorani — also were attacked. Cooper said he was hit on the head by a protester. Gorani said she slammed against some gates and threatened after getting caught in a stampede of protesters and counter-protesters riding on camels and horses Wednesday morning.

[Update 9:45 p.m. Cairo, 2:45 p.m. ET] Egypt’s health minister said 611 people were injured in clashes in Cairo’s Tahrir square Wednesday, state-run television reported. Earlier today, Ministry of Health officials told state TV that at least one member of the Egyptian security forces was and more than 400 people were wounded in clashes between pro- and anti-government demonstrators in Cairo. Most injuries were head wounds from thrown rocks, Egyptian Health Minister Ahmed Sameh Fareed said.

[Update 9:30 p.m. Cairo, 2:30 p.m. ET] A spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry says demonstrations by supporters of the Mubarak government are spontaneous and not orchestrated by the government. He also said the men on horseback and camels who rode into Tahrir Square earlier Wednesday were workers from the Pyramids whose business has been hurt by the unrest.

[Update 8:54 p.m. Cairo, 1:54 p.m. ET] Via Twitter, CNN’s Nic Robertson reported: “This morning, Alexandria seemed on verge of going back to normal but early calm evaporated when aggressive pro-Mubarak groups showed up. … Seeing more vigilante checkpoints around Alexandria. Protesters keen to avoid confrontation with pro-Mubarak groups.”

[Update 8:01 p.m. Cairo, 1:01 p.m. ET] More than 400 people have been wounded in clashes between pro- and anti-government demonstrators in Cairo, Egyptian Health Minister Ahmed Sameh Fareed told state television Wednesday. Most injuries were head wounds from thrown rocks, he said.

[Update 7:47 p.m. Cairo, 12:47 p.m. ET] At least one member of the Egyptian security forces was killed Wednesday in clashes in and around Cairo’s Tahrir Square, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health, Abdel Rahman Shaheen, said on state television.

[Update 7 p.m. Cairo, noon ET] The army is not deliberately allowing the violence to continue, Egypt’s finance minister says, it’s been ordered not to hurt anyone

[Update 5:50 p.m. Cairo, 10:50 p.m. ET] CNN’s Ivan Watson says opposition demonstrators inside Tahrir Square are surrounded by pro-Mubarak groups and fear a bloodbath after nightfall. CNN’s Ben Wedeman tweeted: “The only way out of Tahrir is thru army lines to the right of the mosque next to the Mogamaa.” (The Mogamaa is a building that houses the Interior Ministry.) “People in Tahrir square begging Obama to intervene. They are terrified a bloodbath is about to occur.”

[Update 5:35 p.m. Cairo, 10:35 a.m. ET] As darkness falls on Cairo, some faithful Muslims fall to their knees for evening prayers. Small fires from gasoline bombs, also known as Molotov cocktails, are quickly extinguished near the Egyptian Museum.

[Update 5:32 p.m. Cairo, 10:32 a.m. ET] CNN’s Ben Wedeman, who was roughed up near Tahrir Square, tweeted: “I was not injured. Harassed? Yes. Appears the pro-government “demonstrators” have been given instructions to target press.”

[Update 4:50 p.m. Cairo, 9:50 p.m.] Anderson Cooper witnessed a huge crowd of Mubarak supporters surge across a no-man’s land dividing them from the anti-Mubarak crowd and overturn a military vehicle on the street as a huge roar went up. A large cloud of smoke arose at the east entrance to Tahrir Square, Anderson said.

[Update 4:38 p.m. Cairo, 9:38 a.m. ET] Tear gas was fired near the entrance to Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Wednesday, according to CNN journalists who are there. According to the latest information obtained by the United States, the Egyptian government wants to use police to quell the demonstrations in the capital, a senior U.S. official said. “That may be why you do not see the Army reacting,” the official said. The source also said that, at this point, the violence is largely limited to central Cairo and has not spread to other parts of the country. The official said the major issue for the United States is to try to achieve some measure of stability in Egypt.

[Update 4:23 p.m. Cairo, 9:23 a.m. ET] Some members of the Egyptian Army were believed to be entering Tahrir Square. Military vehicles were separating pro- and anti-Mubarak demonstrators, and several gasoline bombs had been tossed, CNN’s Anderson Cooper said. The sound of gunfire was heard in Tahrir Square, CNN’s Fred Pleitgen said on Twitter.The square has been surrounded by pro-Mubarak demonstrators who have blocked in anti-government demonstrators and others at the site, CNN’s Ben Wedeman said.

[Update 3:58 p.m. Cairo, 8:58 a.m. ET] The United States believes that the Egyptian police are returning to the streets in Cairo and will be the first responders to the violence that has erupted, rather than the Egyptian army, a senior U.S. official with direct knowledge of the unfolding situation in Egypt told CNN Wednesday. “We are seeing preliminary indications the police are coming back in,” the official said, stressing that the situation remains highly volatile and uncertain.

[Update 3:51 p.m. Cairo, 8:51 a.m. ET] Men with rocks in their hands lined a metal wall and pounded out a rhythm. CNN’s Ivan Watson said this appeared to be a show of support for rock-throwers on the front lines as pro- and anti-Mubarak sides faced off. Injured men were carried to a makeshift clinic on Tahrir Square. CNN’s Ben Wedeman said he overheard a panicked army officer say the situation was out of control and there was nothing the army could do to restore order.

[Update 3:42 p.m. Cairo, 8:42 a.m. ET] CNN’s Anderson Cooper said he and his production crew were attacked by pro-Mubarak demonstrators earlier Wednesday. The attackers pushed and shoved the CNN crew and punched them in the head, he said, but no one was seriously hurt.

[Update 3:36 p.m. Cairo, 8:36 a.m. ET] A crew of men were seen on video using tools to break up pavement near Tahrir Square, while others carried loads of rocks, presumably to be thrown at the opposing demonstrators. It wasn’t known which side they supported.

[Update 3:17 p.m. Cairo, 8:17 a.m. ET] As hundreds of men lined up to kneel and pray in the street, a crowd less than 100 feet away could be seen surrounding and beating a man.

[Update 2:58 p.m. Cairo, 7:58 a.m. ET] Men on horseback and camels charged into the crowd at Cairo’s Tahrir Square, some of them lashing people on the ground with whips. Several were pulled off their animals and beaten, and the others retreated. CNN’s Ivan Watson said the horseback riders came from the pro-Mubarak side of the demonstration.

[Update 2:46 p.m. Cairo, 7:46 a.m. ET] CNN’s Amir Ahmed said he has seen people with blood flowing from their heads after being injured by rocks. The clashes appear to be spreading to streets near the square, he said.

[Update 2:32 p.m. Cairo, 7:32 ET] Demonstrators for and against President Hosni Mubarak are throwing rocks at each other on Tahrir Square, CNN’s Ben Wedeman reports. Police are absent from the square and military personnel are hanging back, he says.

[Update 2:19 p.m. Cairo, 7:19 a.m. ET] Competing rallies were being held Wednesday in Alexandria, Egypt, with several thousand people protesting against President Hosni Mubarak and a few hundred others supporting him, CNN Correspondent Nic Robertson reported. In Cairo, Mubarak supporters broke through a barricade that had separated them from anti-government protesters in Tahrir Square. The military surrounded the square but there was nothing between the two sides to keep them apart.


Related report on this site

Fears of Egyptian Domino Effect (Jan. 31, 2011)


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — February 2, 2010

Iraq-Afghanistan Casualties

One year ago today, I provided my weekly report of U.S. military deaths in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Marine Sgt. David J. Smith, 25, Frederick, Md., died Jan. 26, 2010 at a military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, from wounds received in a suicide attack Jan. 23 while supporting combat operations in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. He was assigned to 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 4th Marine Division, Marine Forces Reserve, based out of Camp Pendleton, Calif. and was pursuing a degree from East Carolina University. He is survived by his mother, Mary Jane McWilliams, and his father, Leonard Smith.


FROM THE ARCHIVES: Two Years Ago — February 2, 2009

Election Sets Stage for Conflict

The coffin of Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, a Sunni Arab tribal leader, who was killed by a roadside bomb attack, is placed on the back of a truck during a funeral in Ramadi, 60 miles west of Baghdad, on September 14, 2007. Sunni Muslim Iraqis and members of the Sahwa, or Sons of Iraq, celebrated as they held up an image of the murdered tribal leader following provincial elections in the western Anbar town of Ramadi, Feb. 1, 2009. (Photo credit: Stringer / Reuters)

Two years ago today, on Feb. 2, 2009, I reported that provincial election results in northern Iraq could heighten ethnic tensions between Sunnis and Kurds.

3 Responses to “Violence Erupts in Egypt”
  1. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Fears of Egyptian Domino Effect Says:

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