Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak is finding that it’s difficult to give the people a “little bit of democracy”. Millions of protesters want reform now, not 8 months from now.

Following six days of mostly peaceful protests, Mubarak made a decision to counter protesters by unleashing the “baltageya” plainclothes police armed with rocks, knives, and clubs.

With that, a peaceful ending that seemed possible two days ago took a sharp turn for the worse. And after days of sitting on the fence, President Obama finally took a decisive stand, calling for Mubarak to leave “Now”.

Mubarak Supporters Strike Back With Clubs, Rocks, Knives

Violence took an unfortunate turn for the worse as Mubarak’s Allies and Foes Clash in Egypt

President Hosni Mubarak struck back at his opponents, unleashing waves of his supporters armed with clubs, rocks, knives and firebombs in a concerted assault on thousands of antigovernment protesters in Tahrir Square calling for an end to his authoritarian rule.

The deadly clashes that started Wednesday carried into Thursday morning, when shots were fired at the anti-Mubarak protesters, a number of witnesses said. It was unclear whether the shots came from the pro-government demonstrators or from the military forces stationed in the square.

The Egyptian military, with tanks and soldiers stationed around the square, neither stopped the violence on Wednesday nor attacked the protesters. Soldiers watched from behind the iron fence of the Egyptian Museum, occasionally shooting their water cannons, but only to extinguish flames ignited by the firebombs.

Only two days after the military pledged not to fire on protesters, it was unclear where the army stood. Many protesters contended that Mr. Mubarak was provoking a confrontation in order to prompt a military crackdown.

Mohamed ElBaradei, who was designated to negotiate with the government on behalf of the opposition, demanded that the army move in and protect the protesters. “The army has to take a stand,” he said in a television interview. “I expect the Egyptian Army to interfere today.”

The deployment of plainclothes forces paid by Mr. Mubarak’s ruling party — men known here as baltageya — has been a hallmark of the Mubarak government, and there were many signs that the violence was carefully choreographed.

Please read the rest of that story. Mubarak planned this violence. I suspect some will now want his head.

Arab World Faces Its Uncertain Future

The New York Times reports Arab World Faces Its Uncertain Future

The future of the Arab world, perched between revolt and the contempt of a crumbling order, was fought for in the streets of downtown Cairo on Wednesday.

Tens of thousands of protesters who have reimagined the very notion of citizenship in a tumultuous week of defiance proclaimed with sticks, home-made bombs and a shower of rocks that they would not surrender their revolution to the full brunt of an authoritarian government that answered their calls for change with violence.

The Arab world watched a moment that suggested it would never be the same again — and waited to see whether protest or crackdown would win the day. Words like “uprising” and “revolution” only hint at the scale of events in Egypt, which have already reverberated across Yemen, Jordan, Syria and even Saudi Arabia, offering a new template for change in a region that long reeled from its own sense of stagnation. “Every Egyptian understands now,” said Magdi al-Sayyid, one of the protesters.

Everyone seemed joined in the moment, fists, batons and rocks banging any piece of metal to rally themselves. A man stood on a tank turret, urging protesters forward. Another cried as he shouted at Mr. Mubarak’s men. “Come here!” he said. “Here is where’s right.” Men and women ferried rocks in bags, cartons and boxes to the barricades. Bassem Yusuf, a heart surgeon, heard news of the clashes on television and headed to the square at dusk, stitching wounds at a makeshift clinic run by volunteers.

“I’m fighting for my freedom,” Noha al-Ustaz said as she broke bricks on the curb. “For my right to express myself. For an end to oppression. For an end to injustice.”

“Go forward,” the cries rang out, and she did, disappearing into a sea of men.

Protest Gallery

Stone Throwing

Cairo Protest

Those are 2 of 115 Photos From the Protests

The count goes up every day, with new images added to the front.

Obama Abandons Mubarak

It took President Obama too long, but finally he got it right. Please consider Sudden Split Recasts U.S. Foreign Policy

After days of delicate public and private diplomacy, the United States openly broke with its most stalwart ally in the Arab world on Wednesday, as the Obama administration strongly condemned violence by allies of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt against protesters and called on him to speed up his exit from power.

Egypt’s government hit back swiftly. The Foreign Ministry released a defiant statement saying the calls from “foreign parties” had been “rejected and aimed to incite the internal situation in Egypt.” And Egyptian officials reached out to reporters to make clear how angry they were at their onetime friend.

Separately, in an interview, a senior Egyptian government official took aim at President Obama’s call on Tuesday night for a political transition to begin “now” — a call that infuriated Cairo.

But the White House was not backing down. “I want to be clear,” said Robert Gibbs, the press secretary. “ ‘Now’ started yesterday.”

Officials at the Pentagon, the State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the White House were running various scenarios across the region in an effort to keep up with events.

What would the covert American war in Yemen look like if the supportive Yemeni president were to be forced out? Will Mr. Mubarak’s successor duplicate his support of the Middle East peace process? Will the shifts in the region benefit Islamic extremists, who will try to capitalize on unrest, or will it show the Arab street the power of a secular uprising?

“A full range of events are being discussed in many buildings throughout Washington,” Mr. Gibbs said.

Hackers Shut Down Egyptian Government Sites

The New York Times reports Hackers Shut Down Government Sites

The online group Anonymous said Wednesday that it had paralyzed the Egyptian government’s Web sites in support of the antigovernment protests.

Anonymous, a loosely defined group of hackers from all over the world, gathered about 500 supporters in online forums and used software tools to bring down the sites of the Ministry of Information and President Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, said Gregg Housh, a member of the group who disavows any illegal activity himself. The sites were unavailable Wednesday afternoon.

The attacks, Mr. Housh said, are part of a wider campaign that Anonymous has mounted in support of the antigovernment protests that have roiled the Arab world. Last month, the group shut down the Web sites of the Tunisian government and stock exchange in support of the uprising that forced the country’s dictator, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, to flee.

Mr. Housh said that the group had used its technical knowledge to help protesters in Egypt defy a government shutdown of the Internet that began last week. “We want freedom,” he said of the group’s motivation. “It’s as simple as that. We’re sick of oppressive governments encroaching on people.”

Yemen’s President to Step Down in 2013

In a possible ploy to buy time, Yemen’s president promises to step down in 2013.

In another reverberation of the popular anger rocking the region, the longtime president of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, announced concessions on Wednesday that included suspending his campaign for constitutional changes that would allow him to remain president for life and pledging that his son would not seek to be his successor.

“No extension, no inheritance, no resetting the clock,” Mr. Saleh said Wednesday during a legislative session that was boycotted by the opposition. “I present these concessions in the interests of the country. The interests of the country come before our personal interests.”

But it remained to be seen whether Mr. Saleh, whose current term ends in 2013, was simply trying to siphon vigor from the antigovernment protests planned for Thursday. Those demonstrations are intended to build on gatherings last week that turned into the largest protests against Mr. Saleh, who has ruled for 32 years. He promised in 2005 not to run again but changed his mind the next year.

Jordan Prime Minister Seeks to Contain Unrest

Please consider Premier of Jordan Holds Talks With Rivals.

Jordan’s new prime minister began consultations with key political groups, including the Muslim opposition, on Wednesday. The talks came a day after King Abdullah II, caught in a regional wave of discontent, sought to stave off growing public unrest by firing his government and vowing reform.

Even before meeting with the prime minister, Marouf al-Bakhit, leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood here condemned him as a poor choice because of his ties to the military and because what they want is more democracy rather than a change of personnel. But other vital constituents, including former military officers and tribal leaders, were pleased by his selection, and that seems to have been the king’s first concern in a country where tribal ties to the monarchy are central. Many here said the king had calmed an important part of public anger and won time for changes.

“This Friday will be the first in a month that we will not go out into the streets to demonstrate,” Salem Daifallah, a colonel active in the High National Council for Retired Military Men, representing some 160,000 people, said in an interview. “We will bide our time and see what the new cabinet looks like.” The Muslim Brotherhood and leftists are expected to demonstrate again this week, but most predictions are for smaller turnouts than in recent weeks.

Analysts, diplomats and average Jordanians make the point repeatedly that Jordan is not Tunisia or Egypt. It is a monarchy, and thus far the legitimacy of Hashemite family rule here remains largely unchallenged. Moreover, the two groups that make up the country’s six million people — the East Bank tribes on one hand and Palestinians on the other — have distinctly different interests, meaning the king is not expected to face a unified movement for change.

“Jordan is not even close to being about to blow up,” a Western diplomat here said. “It remains a stable place.”

Superb Coverage from New York Times, Al Jazeer

Coverage of these events by the New York Times has been superb. All of the above links, stories, and images are from

Please also see excellent videos of Violence in Cairo Square on Al Jazeer. (click on the second image in the series and it will open up a video to play). Also see the Al Jazeer Live Video Stream and the Al Jazeer Live Blog

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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