Liveblog – Egypt's protests erupt, By Evan Hill

(Posted From Aljazeera Blogs)

From our headquarters in Doha, we’ll keep you updated on Egypt’s anti-government protests, with reporting from Al Jazeera staff in Cairo, Alexandria, and Suez. Thousands of Egyptians have taken to the streets throughout the country and continue to defy a government curfew, despite the presence of army personnel.

All times are local in Egypt.

Follow staff tweets on the protests from Egypt and Doha.

Watch Al Jazeera English broadcasting live from Cairo, Suez and Alexandria.

View a gallery of photos from the past four days of protests.

Read up on a timeline of the past four days of unprecedented protests.

Visit our special Anger in Egypt coverage page.

11:43 pm – Latest casualty numbers from Egypt: 1,030 injured countrywide. There  reportedly have been 11 civilians killed in Suez and 170 injured. No deaths reported in Cairo yet.

11:23 pm – Egyptian state television says that an important announcement will be made soon.

10:57 pm – We’re definitely seeing the army presence on the streets of Cairo now. Right outside the Al Jazeera bureau in the center of the capital, a line of tanks and armored personnel carriers is parked, with a crowd of civilians standing around watching.

10:41 pm – Flashback to December: The Wall Street Journal’s Charles Levinson handicapped a potential successor to President Hosni Mubarak: Ahmed Shafiq, the minister of civil aviation and the former commander of Egypt’s air force.

“Shafiq has a good reputation. He’s tough, honest, and low-key,” a senior official in Egypt’s ruling party told the newspaper. “His name is definitely out there.”

10:31 pm – With major Egyptian cities in disarray and the military responding in force, the world’s attention now turns to Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi Soliman, the minister of defense and commander of Egypt’s armed forces. He hasn’t been heard from and, as with Mubarak, we haven’t heard of his whereabouts.

Lieutenant General Sami Enan, the military’s chief of staff, was in Washington DC for high-level talks, but he is reportedly returning to Egypt now.

10:14 pm – Robert Gibbs, the spokesman for US President Barack Obama, says that the situation in Egypt “will be solved by the Egyptian people.”

10:10 pm – Gibbs says Obama has not spoken to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. He describes events in Egypt as “fluid and dynamic.” Obama has heard from his national security advisor and US Ambassador to Egypt Margaret Scobey.

9:51 pm – Nicholas Veliotes, who served as US ambassador to Egypt in the mid-1980s during the first years of President Hosni Mubarak, tells Al Jazeera that Mubarak’s government has committed missteps.

“Unfortunately events, including terrorist events, led to an over-eager government reaction and then … the emergency law has been administered in the last [30] years in a way that bottled up all the frustrations and helped create a sense of hopelessness, and here we are,” he said.

9:43 pm – Egypt’s unrest is an international affair, and activists inside the country have asked sympathizers elsewhere to protest in solidarity. We saw one protest here in Qatar today – a rare event in this country – and we’ve received video of a demonstration outside the Egyptian embassy in Dublin:

9:40 pm – His name hasn’t been mentioned much today, but opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei likely remains under some kind of house arrest in Cairo. Al Jazeera spoke with a member of his National Association for Change earlier; she said that organisers were unable to communicate with ElBaradei. He was reportedly sprayed with water – perhaps from a police water cannon – earlier in the day and had been blockaded by police inside the mosque where he observed midday prayers.

9:36 pm – Some European airlines have altered their schedules or cancelled flights to Egypt, due to a curfew that has been imposed countrywide, Reuters reports. British Airways has altered its schedule so that all flights arrive and depart from Cairo in daylight, and Lufthansa has cancelled one flight that was due to leave Cairo for Frankfurt at 4:50 am.

9:20 pm – We’ve heard from foreign ministers in Europe and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who ratcheted up America’s rhetoric on Egypt, but the two people we haven’t heard from are the most important: President Hosni Mubarak and President Barack Obama.

9:14 pm – Our footage of Egyptian military personnel, possibly the presidential guard, driving troop carriers through the streets of Cairo:

9:09 pm – The Daily News, one of Egypt’s top independent English-language newspapers, has its wrap-up piece posted. I will take some important bits and pieces out soon.

8:51 pm – Atlantic magazine’s Alexis Madrigal has posted what he says is a copy of a manual passed amongst activists to prepare their fellow protesters for Friday’s demonstrations. It includes information on how to assemble a crowd strategically, how to combat armored police, and what kind of slogans to shout.

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8:44 pm – Time magazine’s Karl Vick pulls in the first reaction from Israel that’s not a “no comment.” A minister in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government tells Vick that Israel believes Egypt’s security forces will be able to suppress the protesters. “We believe that Egypt is going to overcome the current wave of demonstrations, but we have to look to the future,” he said. While it would be better if Egypt were a democracy, since “democracies do not initiate wars,” the minister said, “I’m not sure the time is right for the Arab region to go through the democratic process.”

8:37 pm – We’ve seen reports from Al Arabiya television that protesters stormed Egyptian state TV, whose offices are located near our own bureau in Cairo, but they’re unconfirmed and the station is still broadcasting. At the same time, we’ve been told that the armored personnel carriers seen driving through the streets of Cairo were en route to the state TV offices.

8:31 pm – Our first images of military personnel and vehicles on the streets of Cairo are beginning to roll in:

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8:19 pm – You can view a selection of high-quality photographs of the recent protests in Egypt here; please note, some are bloody and show injured protesters.

8:15 pm – A quick economy angle on the social and political unrest in Egypt, from Reuters:

Brent oil surged toward $100 a barrel on Friday and U.S. crude jumped more that 4 percent in heavy trade as unrest in Egypt rattled markets … “It’s knocking on $100 a barrel. Whenever you have violence in the Middle East, you have (traders) buying on risk. It will come off as quickly as it got there,” said analyst Andrey Kryuchenkov at VTB Capital in London.

8:02 pm – We’ve got more footage to show you from earlier tonight, and we’re working on continually uploading selections from our special coverage. Here, you can see protesters tonight in Cairo defying a curfew and attacking armored trucks – a widely recognized symbol of Egypt’s repressive security apparatus:

7:46 pm – Internet in Egypt, as far as we can tell, has now been disabled for a full 24 hours. Arbor Networks, which has been monitoring traffic in and out of the country over 80 service providers, has released an updated graphic:

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7:40 pm – Egyptian state television has announced that the curfew, which was originally applied to select cities such as Cairo, Alexandria and Suez – is now applied to the entire country. The images from state TV cameras and our cameras in Cairo – which are no more than a few hundred feet apart – tell different stories:

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7:31 pm – Here’s some footage from earlier today, when our team in Cairo was informed that state security personnel was in the building housing our bureau:

7:27 pm – Imad Hamdi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Beni Suef around 100 kilometers south of Cairo, tells us that demonstrations began in his town immediately after midday prayers today.

“What was most remarkable and noticeable is these people were not moved by a political party or political society,” he says.

According to Hamdi, a crowd of around 50,000 people gathered to demonstrate, marching toward the headquarters of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) and demanding the dissolution of the current parliament. Egypt held legislative elections in two rounds in late November and early December; they were roundly criticized as being fatally flawed because of rampant corruption and intimidation and resulted in an overwhelming victory for the NDP.

7:19 pm – US Senator John Kerry, who chairs the senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, has also issued a statement:

I call on the Egyptian government and security forces to exercise restraint in dealing with protesters and to respect the human rights of its citizens to seek greater participation in their own government. The Egyptian government also should immediately restore communications and access to social networking sites. I hope the people of Egypt will continue to remember the lessons and legacy of peaceful protesters from Gandhi to Dr. King and to exercise their right to be heard in that tradition, which will rally peaceful people everywhere in solidarity.

We know that repression will not remedy the problems that leave people in Egypt and across the Middle East feeling hopeless and frustrated. In the final analysis, it is not with rubber bullets and water cannons that order will be restored.

The time has come for governments in the region to urgently improve governance and transparency, open the field to true opposition and new political identities, create real avenues for listening to and considering the wants and needs of their citizens, and demonstrate to younger generations that they will have better opportunities tomorrow than they do today. In the case of Egypt, President Mubarak has the opportunity to quell the unrest by guaranteeing that a free and open democratic process will be in place when the time comes to choose the country’s next leader later this year.

7:15 pm – The military has now arrived in Alexandria, though Rawya Rageh reports that they aren’t confronting the protesters there with violence. In fact, she says, they are giving them the thumbs up.

The situation is different in Suez, where Jamal Elshayyal says police are still clashing with protesters.

7:13 pm – Clinton says the United States is “deeply concerned” by the government’s use of violence against protesters and “must do everything in its power” to restrain security forces. She also calls on protesters to refrain from violence.

Professor Ibrahim Arafat of Qatar University, in the studio with us, says Clinton’s statement was “mild.” But Fawaz Gerges, a professor of Middle Eastern politics and international relations at the London School of Economics, says it’s the strongest statement yet from the United States.

7:11 pm – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking in Washington DC, says the Egyptian government must “reverse the unprecedented steps it has taken to cut off communication” from within the country and that the United States “strongly believes that the Egyptian government needs to engage immediately with the Egyptian people in implementing needed economic, political and social reforms.”

6:51 pm – Professor Fawaz Gerges, speaking to Al Jazeera, mentions the uprising in Tunisia, which of course is on everyone’s mind. Protesters explicitly linked their “day of anger” on Tuesday with the unrest there, which unseated longtime president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Gerges says that the military played a key role in Tunisia, essentially helping to convince Ben Ali he should leave. We need to watch what the military establishment does in Egypt, and remember that Mubarak is a military man himself.

6:48 pm – Fire still raging at the compound in Cairo that houses the ruling National Democratic Party. No indication that any fire engines are responding yet. And Ayman Mohyeldin reminds us that Egypt’s famous national museum – the home of priceless artifacts dating back to the Pharaonic era country – sits nearby.

From the window of our bureau, his mic continues to pick up the sound of gunfire and explosions on the streets outside.

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6:42 pm – Jamal Elshayyal, in Suez, reminds us that five tanks and several armored vehicles carrying military personnel rolled into the city earlier today after violent protests erupted yet again. One protester has died there today; three died over the previous three days of protests. Serious unrest in Suez might be particularly unsettling to the Egyptian government, since the city rests at the critical juncture where the Suez Canal connects to the Red Sea.

6:40 pm – Police cars have been set on fire in Alexandria, where Al Jazeera’s Rawya Rageh says she has witnessed “heartbreaking” scenes of ordinary citizens struggling mightily to return home and avoid running afoul of the security forces while curfew is in effect. They are trying to pile into microbuses and pick-up trucks.

6:38 pm – It’s getting harder and harder to get good pictures out of Cairo – darkness has set in, and smoke from tear gas and fires is clouding the already sooty air of Egypt’s vast metropolis.

6:32 pm – Amin Iskander, a founder of the Kifaya protest and opposition movement, speaks to Al Jazeera through translation. The ruling National Democratic Party “wreaked havoc and corruption” on the Egyptian people and had an “iron and firm grip” imposing the state’s emergency national security laws for thirty years.

President Hosni Mubarak, in power since the assassination of his predecessor Anwar Sadat in 1981, must promise not to run for another term in presidential elections this year, Iskander says.

6:27 pm – While we watch the stunning images from Cairo – protesters setting fire to the ruling party headquarters, overturning armored police trucks – remember that events in Suez have been as violent, if not worse. Al Jazeera’s Jamal Elshayyal has been there all along:

6:21 pm – Al Jazeera’s Ayman Mohyeldin, in Cairo, says he can smell smoke from a fire wafting into the bureau. The fire is reportedly occurring at the headquarters of the ruling National Democratic Party. The senior leadership of the party, including president Hosni Mubarak’s son, Gamal, was just at the building yesterday for a party gathering. We’ve been talking a lot about how these protests are “unprecedented,” but this is something that has never happened before.

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6:18 pm – Al Jazeera’s Jamal Elshayyal, reporting from Suez, says he has witnessed five “army tanks” enter the area.

6:10 pm – Egyptian state television reports that president Mubarak has ordered the military to reinforce state security during the curfew tonight. But we still have not heard from Mubarak himself.
6:03 pm – Protesters have begun heading to 6th of October bridge in Cairo, defying a government curfew that went into effect three minutes ago.

5:55 pm – Mubarak has been completely silent since protests began four days ago. Still no word on the police in our building in Cairo.

5:50 pm – Al Jazeera’s Ayman Mohyeldin is watching protesters gathered on the street outside our bureau, chanting that they want to live in “dignity and peace.” Meanwhile, we hear police are approaching the front door of our office.

5:36 pm – No update on what security forces are doing in the building housing our bureau, but Al Jazeera’s Ayman Mohyeldin keeps broadcasting. On the streets, as if on cue, Cairenes are gathering on once-busy thoroughfares for evening prayers.

5:31 pm – Egyptian state security forces have entered the building on Cairo’s Gelaa Street where our bureau is located.

5:29 pm – The Egyptian government has announced a curfew set to begin at 6 pm, in half an hour. Al Jazeera’s Ayman Mohyeldin, reporting from Cairo, says thousands of protesters remain on the streets.

5:23 pm – Al Jazeera’s cameras captured footage of an armored personnel carrier driving on a street near central Tahrir Square with security forces wearing camoflauge inside. The crowd seemed to welcome them with happiness. Is this Egypt’s army?

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5:03 pm – Al Jazeera’s Rawya Rageh reports some extraordinary events in Alexandria: Protesters, who often outnumber police, have “arrested” police officers and beat some of them with their own batons. Police without their gear are left alone, those in their gear are confronted. Protesters are also setting security vehicles on fire.

4:57 pm – Our crew in the studio shows you where protests are taking place in Cairo:

4:45 pm – Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Tunisia, says citizens there say that their uprising – which ousted 23-year president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali – has “set an example” for the rest of the Arab world.

4:36 pm – Suez remains the day’s biggest flashpoint. Crowds look  enormous there, and at least one person has reportedly died, his body carried through the street by protesters, according to Al Jazeera’s Jamal Elshayyal.

Protesters there also set at least one security vehicle on fire:

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4:13 pm – It’s incredible to watch the scene being played out in downtown Cairo on television right now. Protesters have gathered in front of the Ramses Hilton hotel, while around a hundred meters away, police continually fire barrages of tear gas at them. The Ramses Hilton is one of the most posh hotels in the entire country, where Egypt’s wealthy and foreign tourists sleep, eat, and drink in rooms the average Egyptian citizen could never dream of affording.

4:09 pm – Al Jazeera Arabic reports that around 15,000 people are protesting in Luxor, a major tourist destination in southern Egypt. We’re not able to confirm reliable crowd numbers at this point, especially in Cairo, where protesters have been dispersed all over the capital.

4:03 pm – Al Jazeera’s Raywa Rageh, in Alexandria, says around 100 protesters are marching along the city’s coastal highway chanting “illegitimate!” She has heard of 10 scattered protests around the Mediterranean port.

3:58 pm – Our presenter here in the studio Kamal Santamaria describes the events in Egypt as “absolute chaos.” That’s not an inaccurate description: Footage from the streets of Cairo shows riot police firing tear gas right next to men in civilian dress throwing rocks at the same group of protesters.

3:50 pm – Our sister station Al Jazeera Arabic has been reporting from throughout Egypt today, they’re currently telling us of other large protests in Port Said, which lies at the mouth of the Suez Canal on the Mediterranean Sea, and in Damietta, a town in the Nile Delta. They report tens of thousands of protesters in Port Said and thousands in Damietta, where crowds set fire to the office of the ruling National Democratic Party.

3:46 pm – Just to give you a sense of how fast things are moving in Egypt: On Gelaa Street outside of our bureau in Cairo, where hundreds of protesters were peacefully praying just half an hour ago, police have now cleared everyone out with tear gas. One of the capital’s landmarks, the Hilton Ramses hotel, is right next door, and tourists have been driven inside off their balconies by the wafting clouds of gas.

3:42 pm – Rageh, in Alexandria, says protesters set two police trucks on fire, with a civilian car “sandwiched inbetween.” Rageh says she’s seen protesters carrying wounded police officers, who tell the protesters, “We’re all Egyptians, we’re with you.”

3:40 pm – Elshayyal, in Suez, says that the seizure of the al-Arbayyin police station in the city is symbolic: Israel used it as a command post during the 1973 war. Protesters now say they’re fighting an “identical battle” against the government of president Hosni Mubarak.

3:27 pm – Elshayyal says protesters have taken over the central part of the city, called al-Arbayyin. The momentum seemed to turn in their favor after several fire engines tried to barrel through a crowd, sending people scattering; the crowd subsequently began pelting the trucks with stones.

“It’s getting from bad to worse as far as the security services here are concerned,” he tells us.

3:18 pm – Senior ruling party member Mustafa al-Fiqi on the phone with Al Jazeera English: President Hosni Mubarak’s government should issue a response, this is not a sign of weakness. He is sure Mubarak will “face the people in the the coming days … otherwise the situation will be escalating and we won’t feel the limits to what is going on now.”

3:15 pm – The son of prominent opposition politican Ayman Nour tells Al Jazeera’s Ayman Mohyeldin in Cairo that Nour was struck in the back of a head by a rock after midday prayers. Nour is now in the hospital.

3:07 pm – Elshayyal, in Suez, says protesters have apparently taken over a police station in the city and set free those who have been arrested in the past 48 hours.

3:03 pm – Mohyeldin, in Cairo, said he was at the mosque in Giza, on the outskirts on the capital, where Mohamed ElBaradei prayed this morning. Police formed a cordon around the mosque’s exits and, as of 90 minutes ago, were keeping ElBaradei and his brother inside. Mohyeldin and our crew managed to get out.

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2:55 pm – Our Arabic channel is reporting that 40,000 protesters in Mansoura – a mid-sized, working-class town in the Nile Delta – are attacking the offices of the ruling National Democratic Party. That would be an enormous crowd, and we haven’t confirmed the number.

Shadi Hamid, of the Brookings Institution, says from the studio here in Doha that no matter where these protests go, the Egyptian people have made a huge accomplishment.

2:47 pm – Al Jazeera’s Jane Dutton says there was a large protest on Gelaa St., outside Al Jazeera’s bureau in Cairo, and that tear gas wafted in through the windows when our team there tried to look outside.

2:38 pm – Latest video from Suez shows a small line of riot police, four men deep, looking swamped by a much larger crowd of protesters.

2:34 pm – Elshayyal, in Suez, reports that several fire trucks sped down a street toward protesters, who had to scatter to avoid being run over and then pelted the trucks with stones. Elshayyal estimates the crowd at 2,000 to 3,000 people, who have lit fires in the street.

Young protesters have told Elshayyal: “We won’t live like our parents did.”

2:31 pm – Dutton, in Cairo, says protesters have also placed blame on the United States for supporting president Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.

2:25 pm – Dutton reports from Cairo: Thousands of people streamed out of mosques in Ramses Square, near Cairo’s main train station, chanting anti-government slogans. They were met immediately by riot police firing tear gas. Al Jazeera footage live from the scene shows a mostly deserted square at the moment.

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2:21 pm – You can view the Al Jazeera English livestream here.

2:18 pm – Protesters in Cairo have reportedly also gathered in front of Mubarak’s residence, a site always guarded heavily by security. Vodafone, a major mobile service provider in Egypt, said it had been ordered by the government to suspend services “in selected areas” of the country and that it was “obliged to comply.”

1:20 pm – Here’s a graph from Arbor Networks showing how Egypt’s internet traffic completely flatlined on Thursday night at around 5:45 pm.

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12:54 pm – Activists in Egypt have called for people in other countries to show solidarity by protesting, especially at Egyptian embassies and consulates. A small crowd has even gathered to protest in Doha, the capital of Qatar, where political demonstrations are nearly unheard of.

12:39 pm – WikiLeaks has just released 46 diplomatic cables from Embassy Cairo. They range from unclassified to secret and date to 2009 and 2010; the latest from February of last year.

12:05 pm – Midday prayers are set to begin shortly throughout Egypt. Protesters are expected to begin their demonstrations when they finish, in roughly an hour. Meanwhile, reports are coming in from multiple sources – including Al Jazeera’s own correspondents in Egypt – that mobile phone services and internet access have been hampered and, in some areas, completely blocked.