Egyptian security forces are using tear gas, water cannon, rubber bullets, and bamboo canes to attack the tens of thousands of angry anti-government protesters who took to the streets Friday calling for a “day of rage” against Hosni Mubarak’s regime, prompting officials to knock the nation’s global Internet and telephone connections offline in a bid to disrupt the social media the rebels are using to coordinate their efforts.
Sources reported Friday morning that about 85 percent of Egypt’s Internet was offline because Egyptian authorities deactivated it. The only remaining link to the world reportedly is a small Internet service provider that the nation’s banks and equity markets use to link to the rest of the world.
CNN and German news crews report that government security forces have seized or destroyed camera equipment, adding to concerns that Egypt is “going dark.”
“They’re using violence everywhere to put the protesters down,” reported CNN correspondent Ben Wedeman in Cairo, who said most of the demonstrators are remaining peaceful, chanting, waving signs, and marching through the streets.
Marauding crowds of tens of thousands gathered in Cairo to call for a new government. Some threw rocks at police, who fired back with tear gas and rubber bullets.
In recent days, authorities have reported at least seven deaths, 100 injuries, and 1,000 arrests. At one point Friday, the crowds reportedly approached the Mubarak residence.
Concerns are growing that the extremist Muslin Brotherhood, which has thrown its support behind the demonstrations, may use the unrest to seize control of the country.
National hero and Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei is in Cairo and told the Guardian newspaper that he believes the Mubarak government is “on its last legs.”
Other demonstrations sprang up around the country. Apparently they were inspired by Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution. Some observers are speculating that Morocco, Algeria, and Jordan could be the next countries hit by the wave of protests against the strong-arm governments in the Middle East.
ElBaradei himself was caught up in the turmoil Friday. After noon prayers ElBaradei and his supporters joined the protesters, only to face baton-wielding police and water cannons.
The Associated Press reports that “a soaking wet ElBaradei” was trapped inside a mosque for nearly an hour after a water cannon blasted him. ElBaradei’s supporters surround him to provide protection. The AP reports that police “laid siege” to the mosque, and fired tear gas canisters at cars outside the mosque, setting them ablaze.
The turmoil in Middle East also is generating chaos in Washington, where foreign policy experts in and out of the Obama administration are trying determine how America should respond.
The New York Times reported Friday that an analysis of WikiLeaks cables shows that U.S.-Egypt relations warmed up after President Barack Obama took office because he backed off of the Bush administration’s push for spreading democracy and human rights in the Middle East. While the Obama administration continued to push Mubarak to make reforms behind the scenes, it toned down the public pressure regarding human rights. One cable, for example, told a visiting Gen. David H. Petraeus that the United States was seeking to avoid “the public confrontations that had become routine over the past several years.”
Now, there are indications the administration’s effort to play global politics to its advantage by soft-pedaling Egypt's abuses could be backfiring. The Times story notes: “This balancing of private pressure with strong public support for Mr. Mubarak has become increasingly tenuous in recent days.”
Increasingly, the administration is coming under criticism for first appearing to encourage pro-democracy movements that it now seems very reticent to embrace. The clash over human rights also appears to be on the verge of triggering a political clash in the United States: Republicans well remember the tepid White House response to the crackdown on protesters following fraudulent elections in Iran in 2009. Republicans complained that President Barack Obama’s response was too timid.