After days of protest, Egypt's civil unrest came to a head today, with protestors defying curfews as the nation's military entered the streets. If you're new to the story, here's what's going on.
Protests started on Tuesday, January 25, when -- inspired by the successful revolution in Tunisia -- thousands of people began taking to the streets to protest poverty, rampant unemployment, government corruption and autocratic governance of President Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled the country for thirty years. These were the first protests on such a large scale to be seen in Egypt since the 1970s. The government responded by blocking Twitter, which was being used by organizers to coordinate protests.
Blocking Twitter not only enraged Egyptian citizens; it also brought increased national attention to the uprising. Over the course of the next two days, Egypt proceeded to block Facebook while the much-hated riot police took to the streets, arresting and injuring hundreds with batons, tear gas water cannons. Protests occurred not only in Cairo, the capital, but also in Alexandria and Suez, two other major cities.
On Thursday as the protests continued to rage throughout the country, Nobel Laureate and former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohamed ElBaradei (ehl-BEHR'-uh-day), returned to Egypt from Vienna, declaring that he was ready to lead the protests. Often thought of as a potential Egyptian leader should Mubarak lose power, ElBaradei is a strong opposition force.
Additionally, the Muslim Brotherhood, long a fierce opponent of the Mubarak regime and officially banned in Egypt, threw their weight behind the protestors, many of whom are young, tech-savvy Egyptians, reports the New York Times. Two-thirds of Egypt's population has never known a leader other than Mubarak.
The largest protests were planned for Friday, at which point the government took the unprecedented step of blocking all Internet services in the country. With Twitter and Facebook already down, email other social networking outlets fell as well. Text messaging was also blocked. Protestors and journalists began finding alternate means of getting online and pushing out information.
During the day, the military was called in to take over security, a move that was welcomed by the protestors. Most Egyptians are reported to hold the armed services in higher regard than the police. The U.S announced that due to the ongoing protests, the Obama administration would be reviewing the substantial aid, both military and non-military, provided to Egypt. (Egypt is the second-largest recipient of U.S. aid -- most of it military -- right behind Israel.)
After a long silence, President Hosni Mubarak appeared on state television to announce that while he would be dismissing the government, he would not resign. Protestors continued to chant "Down, down with Mubarak" after his announcement. Shortly afterwards President Obama made a televised appearance to say that he had spoken with the Egyptian president on the phone, and had urged him to take "concrete steps" towards reform.
As of Friday night, the streets were reported to be more quiet as Egypt waited for Saturday's announcement of a new government.
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