Death toll in Egypt protests reaches five as anti-government riots persist
Demonstration organizers say Facebook, the main site used by demonstrators, has become only partially accessible; government denies targeting social networks.
Demonstrations against the rule of President Hosni Mubarak resumed in many cities throughout Egypt on Wednesday. But though thousands participated in the protests, they were significantly smaller than Tuesday's demonstrations.
The exception was in Suez, where developments were much more dramatic: Protesters set government offices ablaze and targeted a building belonging to the ruling party. The media reported at least 50 injured in clashes with security forces and three people lost their lives in the clashes in Suez.
"The situation has gone out of control, and there is a real war in the streets," a reporter for Al Jazeera in Suez reported.
Even though Egypt's Interior Ministry warned Wednesday that police would not allow unauthorized assemblies, some 2,000 people marched down the main avenue in Cairo, along the Nile, Wednesday evening. They were charged by the special anti-demonstration police, as was true of all of yesterday's demonstrations.
Earlier, hundreds had demonstrated on the capital's main thoroughfare and were dispersed with tear gas. Several dozen activists gathered before the journalists' union building in Cairo and shouted slogans against Mubarak; they were attacked and beaten by police.
Hundreds of people were arrested in the various incidents. More than 120 people were arrested in Assyut, most members of the Muslim Brotherhood, and about 600 were arrested in Cairo, including eight journalists protesting against the government.
The number of deaths in all the demonstrations Wednesday was five. The other two occurred in Cairo later in the night.
The demonstrations' organizers tried to use social network platforms to rally supporters, but residents reported that the main site used by the demonstrators - Facebook - was at best only partially accessible yesterday.
The government denied having targeted the social networks. "The government would not use such methods," said Majdi Radi, a government spokesman.
Facebook, for its part, said that even though the company is aware of the complaints about accessibility problems, it had not noticed any substantial change in the number of daily users in Egypt.
There were serious clashes in Cairo's Liberation Square before dawn yesterday. Initially, the demonstrations on Tuesday had begun calmly, and the security forces were careful to show restraint. But some time after midnight, the security forces began dispersing several thousand demonstrators by force.
Opposition leaders, including representatives of Al Wafd, the party of led by former International Atomic Energy Agency director Muhammad ElBaradei, called a press conference to say they intend to carry on with their protests until their demands are met.
They demanded that Mubarak not run in the next presidential election; that his son Gamal not present himself as a candidate; that parliament be disbanded, because they claim it was not legally elected; and that an emergency caretaker government be appointed.
The April 6 movement, a group of young people that claims to be behind the latest demonstrations, called on Egyptians to continue taking part in them.
The protests sent the Egyptian stock exchange, the largest in North Africa, down 4.2 percent yesterday. An analyst at one of the country's largest investment firms explained that the demonstrations were unexpected for many investors, so they were slow in reacting.
Earlier in the week, he noted, the stock exchange had shown signs of recovery following the drop it experienced due to the revolution in Tunisia.
The big question is whether Egypt is now on the verge of a popular uprising like Tunisia's or whether calm will be restored in a few days. As of last night, it remained unclear where things might be heading. But witnesses in Cairo told Haaretz that so far, there was no dramatic change in the nature of the demonstrations, such as the opposition would like to see.
The country's difficult economic situation, the extensive fraud in the recent parliamentary elections, the poor health of its aging president, and reports that he intends to pass his job on to his son Gamal have all stirred anger and frustration among Egyptians. Some 40 percent of Egyptians live below the poverty line, which stands at $2 per day.
It seems unlikely that the outbursts of the past 48 hours will cease completely, and the situation may explode if the ruling party tries to pass presidency to Gamal Mubarak when his father is no longer able to carry out his duties.
The presidential election is due to take place in November, and it is unclear how the opposition will behave as the date approaches. But in order to restore calm to the Egyptian street, especially ahead of the election, the ruling party may ultimately be forced not to name Gamal Mubarak as its presidential candidate.
So far, the Islamist groups, and especially the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, have yet to become fully involved in the protests. The demonstrations are currently being led by leftist democratic groups like Al Wafd, Al 'Ad and supporters of ElBaradei.
The Muslim Brotherhood is keeping a relatively low profile because the regime is more concerned about its impact than about that of other groups. But it is unlikely that either the Brotherhood or other Islamic groups will remain quiet, especially if demonstrations continue over the next few days.