Friday, January 28, 2011

Egypt on Fire Update: Friday's Protests, Riots and Revolution

For up-to-the-minute coverage, you can live stream Al Jazeera's English feed here.

While most of the America slept, our hapless media barely mentioned the riots in Egypt. Don't forget, Oprah has a secret half-sister, American Idol was on last night, and Charlie Sheen finally got released from the hospital after a coke-blown orgy with two hookers that got way out of control.

The situation in Egypt looked grim. The U.S. politicians were evasive with questions about their biggest alley in the Middle East, Egyptian President Mubarak, who has been in power for three decades. Democracy Is Calling in Egypt -- Can Obama Hear It? is an excellent read about how President Obama is essentially ignoring the cries for democratic reform in key Arab countries.

Depending on who you talk to the words "despot" and "tyrant" and "dictator" get uttered in the same breath as Mubarak. Once the frustrated citizens in Egypt noticed what their brothers and sisters had accomplished in Tunisia after ousting their corrupt government leaders, they took to the streets in mass protest to stand up to Mubarak.

On the eve of scheduled demonstrations for Friday, the government cracked down on the flow of information. They pulled the plug on social network sites like Twitter and Facebook, and later killed the internet completely. Egypt was officially off the grid (aside from their Stock Exchange and governmental access). They also blocked SMS access (including BlackBerry's version of text messaging among it's network). At that point, it was difficult to find out exactly what was going on but protest leaders resorted to word-of-mouth and land-line telephones. Luckily, a few information leaks sprung through the massive fire wall that the Egyptian government set up.

Hey, if you've been in power for thirty years and on the verge of getting strung up in the streets by angry citizens, wouldn't you do everything possible to have a full-blown media blackout as your thugs in the police force crack down on protesters using force and any other means necessary? In short, if Egyptian cops were going to shoot protesters, the government didn't want that televised. One video caused major ripples on Thursday, which showed a young protester shot and killed by a police sniper. The government doesn't want more videos like that popping up on YouTube.

I followed hash tags on Twitter (#Egypt and #Jan25) for any information late last night. Through thousands of tweets, I was able to piece together the plan of action as dawn rose in Egypt. All of the protests were set for after the noon prayers. A special tactical guide was passed around to the protesters showing how they can protect themselves against the police. The Atlantic translated some of that pamphlet.

On the other side, the stories and rumors swirled that the government were going to shut off all power and water. What the police and security forces were doing sounded troubling -- dousing cars with gasoline and spraying city squares with petrol in advance of any protesters. Some suggested that the cops would light the cars on fire and blame the protesters, meanwhile they'd ignite the gas-soaked squares to stop the gatherings.

When I woke up, I immediately checked Twitter. The best coverage about the Egyptian protests and riots that I could find appeared a live blog on Al Jazeera's English site.

Sounds like riot police have been shooting rubber bullets, tear gas, stun grenades, and using water cannons to disperse protesters. There's supposed to be a curfew, but I doubt that many people are going to adhere to those wishes.

Here's a map of conflict areas.

Here's a couple of video updates...

Photo courtesy of: Financial Times

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