The violence in Egypt continues to escalate with more protests, fire bombs, and buildings set ablaze. Protesters burnt the headquarters of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling party to the ground. The US embassy was also attacked, but so far, those protesters have been turned back.

President Mubarak imposed curfews, however, those curfews were ignored. When shutting down the internet failed, Mubarak’s next step was to bring in the army.

Egypt Calls In Army as Protests Rage

The New York Times reports Egypt Calls In Army as Protests Rage

After a day of increasingly violent protests throughout Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak ordered the military into the streets to reinforce police struggling to contain riots by tens of thousands of Egyptians that posed one of the most serious challenges to his long and autocratic rule.

The president also imposed an overnight curfew nationwide, but demonstrators defied the order, remaining in the streets of the capital, setting fire to police cars and burning the ruling party headquarters to the ground. As smoke from the fires blanketed one of the city’s main streets along the Nile, crowds rushed the Interior Ministry and state television headquarters, but the military moved into the buildings to establish control. Protesters also tried to attack the American Embassy.

Calling out the military is a signal of how dramatically the situation had spiraled out of control after four days of demonstrations. The army, one of the country’s most powerful and respected institutions, prefers to remain behind the scenes and has not been sent into the streets since 1986.

But the police, a much reviled force prone to violent retribution against anyone who publicly defies the state, appeared unable to quell the unrest despite a heavy-handed response that included beatings of protesters and the firing of a water cannon at Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei. In several cases in the capital and elsewhere, the police were forced to back down by throngs of protesters.

In one of the most arresting scenes of the day, in Alexandria, protesters snatched batons, shields and helmets from the police. Honking cars drove up and down a main street, holding police riot shields and truncheons out the windows as trophies.

In both Cairo and Alexandria, some army patrols were greeted with applause and waves from the crowds — a seemingly incongruous response from demonstrators who say they want to bring down the president. But many people support the army for its success in shocking the Israeli Army with a surprise attack in 1973 and for its perceived reluctance, at least in the past, to get involved in politics.

As the chaos continued, it appeared some Egyptians might be taking steps on their own to stop any destruction. An Al Jazeera correspondent, who had spoken by phone to eye witnesses at the National Museum, said that thousands of protesters had formed a “human shield” around the museum to defend from possible looting of antiquities, though there were no confirmed reports that such looting had begun.

Violent Clashes on the Streets of Cairo

The NYT has a 21-image Slideshow of the Violent Clashes on the Streets of Cairo. Here are 3 of the 21 images.

Tahrir Square on Friday night. Internet and cellphone connections have been disrupted or restricted in Cairo, Alexandria and other places, cutting off social-media Web sites that had been used to organize protests and complicating efforts by the news media to report on events on the ground.

Credit: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

The unrest in Egypt — fueled by frustrations over government corruption, economic stagnation and a decided lack of political freedom — came after weeks of turmoil across the Arab world that toppled one leader in Tunisia.

Credit: Scott Nelson for The New York Times

The protests across Egypt have underscored the blistering pace of events that have transformed the Arab world, particularly among regimes that have traditionally enjoyed the support of successive administrations in Washington.

Credit: Mohamed Omar/European Pressphoto Agency

Mubarak Orders Ministers to Resign

The people clearly want the Egyptian president to resign, instead, Mubarak Orders Ministers to Resign.

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt appeared on television late Friday night and ordered his government to resign, but backed his security forces’ attempts to contain the surging unrest around the country that has shaken his 28-year authoritarian rule.

He did not offer to step down himself and spent much of the short speech explaining the need for stability, saying that while he was “on the side of freedom,” his job was to protect the nation from chaos.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, reading a prepared statement, called Friday on Egypt’s government to “restrain the security forces” and said that “reform is absolutely critical to the well-being of Egypt.” “We urge the Egyptian authorities to allow peaceful protest and to reverse the unprecedented steps it has take to cut off communications,” she said, apparently referring to interruptions in Internet and cellphone connections in some cities. She also urged that protesters “refrain from violence and express themselves peacefully.” After her comments, the State Department issued a travel alert cautioning Americans against all nonessential trips to Egypt in the next month.

Images of the lowly challenging the mighty have been relayed from one capital to the next, partly through the aggressive coverage of Al Jazeera. Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter have given the protesters a potent weapon, enabling them to elude the traditional police measures to monitor and curb dissent. But various regimes have fallen back on a more traditional playbook, relying on security forces to face angry demonstrators on the streets.

U.S. Puts Egypt Aid Under Review

Bloomberg reports U.S. Toughens Stance on Mubarak; Puts Egypt Aid Under Review

“The people of Egypt are watching the government’s actions, they have for quite some time, and their grievances have reached a boiling point and they have to be addressed,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters in Washington. The U.S. will be looking at its “assistance posture” toward Egypt, Gibbs said.

“For the U.S., any effort on our part to provide support for Mubarak is going to be read in Egypt as support for a crackdown and support for an undemocratic regime,” said Steven Cook, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. “We need to be forward looking for this.”

More than 80 percent of U.S. aid to Egypt, or $1.3 billion, is in the form of military assistance, according to data supplied by the U.S. State Department. With President Barack Obama in power, military aid has stayed unchanged and economic assistance has been cut to $250 million from $411 million in 2008 with the phasing out of democracy-linked programs.

The amount of money Egypt receives from the U.S. is exceeded only by Afghanistan, Pakistan and Israel, based on the State Department’s budget request for the current fiscal year.

After four days of demonstrations, the top U.S. diplomat for the first time said the U.S. was “deeply concerned” about the crackdown by security forces and police. Clinton was the highest U.S. official in the administration to speak on the matter today.

“These protests underscore that there are deep grievances within Egyptian society and the Egyptian government needs to understand that violence will not make these grievances go away,” Clinton read out in a statement in Washington. “We think that moment needs to be seized.”

Clinton urged the Egyptian government to “reverse the unprecedented steps it has taken to cut off communications.” Clinton still referred to Egypt, without naming Mubarak, as an “important partner” in the Middle East.

The US is in a very tough spot and has to guess how this will play out. If President Mubarak survives, the US does not want to alienate him. If he doesn’t survive (and I bet he doesn’t regardless of the short-term outcome), the US does not want to alienate those who take over.

Such thinking explains the careful statements by Hillary Clinton calling Egypt an important partner, not President Mubarak an important partner.

Look at the military and other aid we pour into the region (Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iraq, Kuwait) in a hypocritical attempt to be on all sides of multiple fences simultaneously, shaking hands with dictators one day, invading their country the next. Has it been worth it? How?

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were a complete waste of trillions of dollars. We failed to capture Bin Laden, did not make the region more stable, and made more enemies than before the wars started.

Maybe we will get this one right, but history suggests otherwise.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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