Egypt: How did it get to this point?
Thousands of protesters again defied curfew, gathering at Tahrir Square in Cairo on Monday.
January 31st, 2011
01:57 PM ET

Egypt: How did it get to this point?

As the protests in Egypt reach Day 7, CNN takes a look back at how they have unfolded.


On the heels of anti-government demonstrations in Tunisia, thousands of protesters spilled into the streets of Egypt in a rare display of anti-government outcry. CNN reporters on the scene witnessed throngs of people in Cairo march from Tahrir Square to the parliament building. Demonstrators threw rocks at police, who threw them back and shot tear gas at the protesters, who also reciprocated.

While Egypt estimated that there were 5,000 to 10,000 protesters, CNN estimated that the demonstration peaked at 15,000 to 20,000 protesters.

The protest's organizers said they wanted to mirror the uprising in Tunisia, which 10 days prior had precipitated the end of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's 23-year rule. Before the protests in Cairo, several Egyptians set themselves or tried to set themselves on fire earlier in the month, which also was reminiscent of Tunisia, where a man's self-immolation spurred the uprising.

The Egyptian protesters - who included young and old, Christians and Muslims, students, workers and businesspeople - said they were angry over the cost of living, failed economic policies and corruption. They demanded that President Hosni Mubarak, in power for three decades, follow the lead of Tunisia's president.

"We breathe corruption in the air," said one demonstrator.

At day's end, three protesters in the port city of Suez and a police officer in Cairo were killed. Forty-nine people were injured, according to news reports.


Egypt's security forces struck back hard, turning water cannons and more tear gas canisters on the protesters. In downtown Cairo, police hit demonstrators with fists and sticks, and 90 people were arrested at Tahrir Square. A watchdog group said 10 journalists were among those beaten.

Opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei came forward to say that the government was not stable. The Interior Ministry later said it would not allow "any provocative movement or a protest or rallies or demonstrations."

The protesters were undeterred. They clashed with police in Suez, and in Rafah, near the Gaza border, Bedouins tried to stop traffic by setting tires ablaze and throwing rocks at cars, according to Egypt's state-run news agency.

In a sign that social networking was a catalyst in the demonstrations, Twitter said that it had been blocked for two days and that protesters were using other applications or proxy sites to get out their message. Egypt denied the claim, saying it had not blocked Facebook, Twitter or any other website and suggesting that the sites may have been slow because of the traffic.

In Washington, the White House called on both sides to refrain from violence and dubbed Egypt "a strong ally." The U.S. State Department said Egypt was integral to maintaining security in the Mideast because it has diplomatic ties with Israel, has participated in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and has aided efforts to stabilize Iraq. It also contributes to U.N. peacekeeping missions and backs the U.S. war on terror, the State Department said.

Analysts observed that the situation puts Washington in a difficult situation because while the U.S. wants more democracy, prosperity and freedom in the region, it needs allies like Egypt, which received more than $1.3 billion a year in military aid from the U.S.


As observers marveled over how large the protests grew and how rapidly, the violence - albeit on a smaller scale - continued for a third day. Parts of the internet went down in the country, and text messaging services appeared to be blocked. Nonetheless, protest pages continued to pop up on Facebook, Twitter and other websites.

The government continued to warn people against protesting as some Egyptians went door-to-door, urging their neighbors to take part in the demonstrations. Soccer matches in the country were canceled. The stock market was shut down for an hour after it fell precipitously.

A protester identifying himself only as Ahmed said police smashed his nose and glasses before taking him to a military camp with about 300 other activists.

"The conditions were terrible, because very few were allowed to go to the toilet, and we had to stand on the cold tiles of the floor, (which were) very dirty," he said.

ElBaradei, a Nobel laureate, arrived in the country and said the protests were growing because Egyptians "realize the regime is not listening, not acting." He said he would participate in the protests and urged the demonstrators and the government to keep standoffs peaceful. He also said Mubarak should stop detaining and torturing people.

"The barrier of fear is broken," he said after arriving from Europe, "and it will not come back."

The Muslim Brotherhood, the country's largest opposition bloc, made its first call for its followers to join in the demonstrations (after Friday prayers), a move that preceded prominent leader Isaam al-Aryan's arrest. The U.S. Embassy in Cairo later issued a statement telling Americans to avoid areas where people congregate after prayer.

Asked whether Mubarak should step down, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said, "No, I think the time has come for President Mubarak to move in the direction to be more responsive to some of the needs of the people out there." He further said that he felt Mubarak would respond to the "legitimate concerns that are being raised" and that many of the protesters were middle-class people simply looking for more opportunity.

Ahmed, the protester, said Egypt wants democracy, after the American model, and he was disappointed by the United States' reaction to the protests and its support for Mubarak.

"We can't understand how come this leader of the free world is looking the other way when it comes to our rights or freedom," he said. "The despotic regime that (the U.S.) supports always demonizes the image of United States ... always putting blame on the United States for everything."


Reports emerged that the demonstrations have spread across the nation, from Cairo and Alexandria to Suez and Ismailia. Soldiers and tanks rolled into major cities as demonstrators in Cairo and Alexandria torched police stations while burning and overturning police vehicles. Plumes of smoke rose over the Nile River as police fired water cannons, rubber bullets and tear gas canisters into crowds.

It was the first time since 1985 that the army had been deployed to contain unrest.

Riot and plainclothes police backed by the tanks continued to clash with demonstrators, who screamed, hurled rocks and accosted the security forces. They chanted "God is Great" and demanded that "the dictator" must go. "Down, Down, Mubarak," they shouted. One protester said he was beaten and jailed and fears that his life is in danger, and in Cairo, police threatened a CNN crew and take its camera.

However, protesters said the army was far less aggressive than police had been, and in some cities, including Cairo and Alexandria, Egyptians applauded the arrival of tanks.

As Mubarak imposed a curfew from 6 p.m. Friday until Saturday morning because of "hooliganism and lawlessness," social networking played an increasingly important role to the uprising as Egypt continued a widespread crackdown on communications within and leaving the country.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged the protesters to be peaceful and said, "We are deeply concerned about the use of violence by Egyptian police and security forces against protesters, and we call on the Egyptian government to do everything within its power to restrain its security forces."

The State Department urged Americans to postpone any nonessential travel to Egypt as airlines began canceling flights into the country.

The travel warning came as WikiLeaks released diplomatic cables showing that the U.S. is frustrated with Mubarak's government but that it also considers Egypt an important and heretofore stable ally in negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program and in the handling of Hamas in Gaza. The U.S. also regards Egypt as an important player in combating Islamic fundamentalism.

However, the cables show that the U.S. is troubled by the torpid pace of finding a successor for the 82-year-old Mubarak, economic reforms and Egypt's attitude toward domestic opponents.


Shortly after midnight, Mubarak asked the government to step down, saying in a televised address, "I will commission a new government to take over tomorrow." Later in the day, he appointed intelligence chief Omar Suleiman as his deputy and tapped Ahmed Shafik, the civil aviation minister in the defunct Cabinet, to form a new government, state-run TV reported.

U.S. President Barack Obama spoke with Mubarak after the address and told him he had a responsibility to "take concrete steps and actions" to deliver on the promise of democracy and greater economic opportunity that he made during his address to the Egyptian people.

"Violence will not address the grievances of the Egyptian people. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away," the American president said.

An Obama official later said Mubarak's speech was "hardly conciliatory and highly disappointing, but what did you expect?"

Tens of thousands of protesters, many of them disappointed that Mubarak did not announce his resignation during his speech, defied the curfew to continue the protests.

Responding to Mubarak's announcement, ElBaradei told Al-Jazeera that Egyptians wanted a regime change, not new personnel.

"The Egyptian people are saying one thing: President Hosni Mubarak must leave. We have to move towards a democratic state."

With security dwindling in some neighborhoods, businesses were looted, and abandoned police stations were robbed of their weapons. In one Cairo neighborhood, roads were barricaded as residents handed out sticks and knives for protection, and armed men stayed up all night to protect their homes. One resident likened the situation to "the Wild West."

"There have been no police officers on the streets since this morning. ... All the men are trying to protect the ladies, their wives and children," Cairo resident Sherief Abdelbaki said. "We have all become vigilantes."

The army, which was still being embraced by many protesters, issued a statement: "Stop the looting, chaos and the things that hurt Egypt. Protect the nation, protect Egypt, protect yourselves."

In one instance, thousands of chanting demonstrators ransacked the headquarters of the ruling National Democratic Party and set it afire, but when they approached the state-run television building, soldiers linked arms, forming a human chain. The crowd stopped respectfully in front of the troops but continued chanting "Down, down, Hosni Mubarak."

But there were also instances of protesters lashing out at the army. Such was the case in Cairo, where demonstrators swarmed an army vehicle outside a hotel.

Protests in Cairo were largely peaceful, despite episodes of lawlessness. A police van slammed into a protester in Suez. In Cairo, a demonstrator was shot while hurling a rock.

At the Interior Ministry, violence erupted between demonstrators and security forces. Dr. Ragab Ali at the Ebad Al-Rahman Clinic said five people were fatally shot and another 60 were injured.

At Prison Demu, near Cairo, several officials were killed when 1,000 inmates escaped the facility. In Alexandria, 31 people were killed in protests, according to officials, and chaos erupted when patients at a hospital grew angry that they weren't be treated quickly enough.

As Egypt's ambassador to the U.S. said his communication with the White House had come to a halt, British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Mubarak to bring about a "process of transformation" and to hold "free and fair elections." The U.S. said it was reviewing its aid policy for the north African nation.

Israel remained largely quiet on the situation, and a Knesset member said he didn't believe that the protests could bring down Mubarak's government because there were no viable leaders in the opposition.

"There is no leading figure that can lead the wave of protests till the regime falls," Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, who is considered to have the closest ties to Mubarak, told Israeli Army Radio. "This is not a regime of one person, but it is backed by the army, the intelligence agencies and the secret service."

Mubarak imposed another curfew from 4 p.m. Saturday to 8 a.m. Sunday in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez, the cities where the largest protests had unfolded.

Egyptian military leaders cut short a visit to the Pentagon, and Egypt's Central Bank announced the closure of all banks and the stock market Sunday, state-run television reported. University exams were also postponed.

The protests began seeping beyond Egypt's borders as demonstrators in New York, Washington, London, Geneva and Toronto staged gatherings in support of those in Egypt. They demanded that Mubarak step down.


The U.S. began flying stranded Americans out of the country as demonstrators again defied Mubarak's curfew. The protests appeared largely peaceful as there were signs of increasing cooperation between the army and civilians, both fed up with looting and threats of violence from opportunistic criminals. More than 3,000 people, including looters and escaped prisoners, had been arrested, state-run media reported.

Protesters, again defying curfew, were seen cheering, chatting and posing for pictures with members of the military in their tanks. The army had been deployed to replace police forces that had clashed brutally with demonstrators.

Ali Regal, a student activist in Alexandria, said the military was working with demonstrators to coordinate security and map out a plan to set up checkpoints across the port city, but there were still signs of unrest.

"The army is very helpful and working with us," Regal said. "There is a strong cooperation between the masses and the army."

The demonstrators said they had two central demands: that Mubarak's administration face a trial and that the constitution be changed.

At Cairo's Tahrir Square, crowds flanked ElBaradei, cheering his arrival. He told protesters he came "to participate today in the lives of Egyptians. Today, I look into the eyes of each one of you, and everyone is different today. Today, you are an Egyptian demanding your rights and freedom, and what we started can never be pushed back. As we said, we have one main demand: the end of the regime and to start a new phase."

Fatma Morayef, a Human Rights Watch researcher in Tahrir Square, said, "The square has emptied out since the afternoon, but it's still a great atmosphere, a sense of solidarity and very well-behaved: People are sitting around bonfires or walking around picking up rubbish," Morayef said. "Crowds who find occasional looters drag them over to the soldiers and hand them over."

Several thousand people remained in the square Sunday night, and many said they plan to stay until Mubarak resigns, Morayef said.

ElBaradei said earlier during a CNN interview that Mubarak should step down to "save the country" and that he felt he was "mandated by the people who organized these demonstrations ... to agree on a national unity government."

Though Mubarak has given no indication that he intends to step down, he opened the door to "dialogue with all the political parties," state-run media reported. He conceded that the protests had been peaceful but said the demonstrators had been "infiltrated by a group of people who use the name of religion, who don't take into consideration the constitution rights and citizenship values."

In Alexandria, machine-gun fire could be heard as thousands of protesters marched through the streets Sunday night. Gunfire could also be heard in Cairo, including in front of the Egyptian Museum, where vandals earlier beheaded two mummies. A makeshift clinic was erected on the doorstep of a mosque in the capital.

Overall, said Sameh Shoukry, the Egyptian ambassador to the U.S., "The situation seems to be improving slightly in terms of security for private and public property." However, the ambassador said he had heard no communication from Cairo or Washington. In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he wanted peace and stability in the region and that he was "anxiously monitoring" the situation in Egypt.

Cell phone and mobile internet service appeared to have returned, but Egypt's Information Ministry said it was revoking Al-Jazeera's license and withdrawing accreditation of the network's staff, state media said. Mubarak also imposed another curfew until 8 a.m. Monday.


Demonstrations defied the curfew with a seventh straight day of protests and announced they were arranging a "million man" march in protest of Mubarak's government. Follow the developments at This Just In.

soundoff (103 Responses)
  1. An American

    Shocking – the inane rantings of a bunch of anti-Israel, anti-US, naive (and most likely, Muslim) morons. Oh wait – this is; why should I expect anything else from a "news" organization made of anti-Israel, anti-US, naive morons.

    February 1, 2011 at 1:59 am | Report abuse |

      Such is to be expected from a person of your obvious limitations. CNN is not the right-wing Fox Network. In fact,I'm they let moderates and liberals post here. That right is usually limited to conservative fanatics in most places.

      February 1, 2011 at 3:56 am | Report abuse |
  2. Miriam

    There is great hype that today, one million Egyptians will protest in Cairo. It sounds a HUGE number but – where are the other 82 million people??? This isn`t even 10% and I would hazard a guess that at least half of the one million are under the age of 20. So where is the sense in all this?? Are reporters making a mountain out of a mole hill? And how do you govern 82 million people?

    February 1, 2011 at 4:15 am | Report abuse |
  3. Dave Richman

    A quick and peaceful end to this demand for freedom is made all the more uncertain by Obama's cowardly refusal to support the people reaching out for freedom. After his Cairo speech, claiming to support democracy and freedom, he now huddles in the WH hoping to spot the winner, so that he can choose sides. The side if freedom is clear to the Egyptians who are watching and waiting to see what we do. If the choice goes to and Islamic state, we can claim a good portion of the blame by our failure to stand up with the protesters.

    February 1, 2011 at 5:13 am | Report abuse |
  4. me

    ok...that's enough on egypt now. they don't like us. let's just stop sending money there and don't help anyone develop anything...they hate us. let them get themselves where they want to be. let the corporations deal with that. not us.

    February 1, 2011 at 6:48 am | Report abuse |
  5. Jaylee

    This guy has been president for 30 years! Imagine Bush being the president for 30 years. Um, um, um.

    February 1, 2011 at 6:55 am | Report abuse |
  6. Matt

    We need to be brave enough to say:

    "We support freedom and democracy where ever and when ever it is organically derived from the will of the people. This support is unequivocal and without consideration to whether or not the will of those people will lean towards admiration or cynicism of the United States. As a Country, lets be honest enough to admit that if the Arab Street feels hesitancy towards embracing American ideals, at least some part of it originates from the fact that as a Country we have subverted many of our own ideals in choosing the political expediency of supporting dictators friendly to us rather than the moral courage of supporting the uncertainty of a popular movement. This needs to forever change.”

    I’ll let the state department write the Obama Doctrine that surely must follow.

    February 1, 2011 at 10:31 am | Report abuse |
  7. Keith

    CNN: This story started 30 years ago with a US-backed puppet.
    This is a story that plays-out over and over.
    We give Mubarak hundreds of millions per year; we have kept him in power to keep Egypt from attacking Israel.
    Now the whole thing is blowing-up in our faces.
    How will the Egyptian people deal with those who kept Mubarak in power?

    February 1, 2011 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
  8. Matt

    I venture to say with Kensian realism. I think we give them Billions, not millions. We need to recognize that Egypt isn't Iran (although I'm sure they've taken note). Religious governments are not quite known for their civil liberties, which is what this uprising is in large part about.

    February 1, 2011 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
  9. vallan

    The financial systems around the world are hanging on by a thread. The bankers are using every form of deception they can conjure up to keep it from imploding. Manipulation of metals trading shorts when they have no physical metals to back the sell (just like the paper with ink they say are "dollars"), to buying Treasury Bonds from Goldman Sach's at a higher interest rate payable by the taxpayers than buying the Treasury Bonds from the Treasury where the taxpayers would gain, instead the interest gets paid to Goldman Sach's and the taxpayers get the bill, and the continued printing of counterfeit Federal Reserve Notes by the trillions devaluing every single note you have in your pocket. It is and always has been all throughout history the last act of a dying empire or banana republic to devalue the currency before it's financial systems collapsed.

    History is upon the USA yet again. Only this time there are no forefathers to speak with intelligence and forethought, no Representation in the Government to demand it be done different, no people who can stand together without ignorance speaking to disrupt the goal, we can get 100,000 or more to go to an NFL game, but can't get 1,000 to stand in front of city hall and say that's enough when they steal everything and take no responsibility. Sorry but we have become weak as a citizenry and need to wake up to the false division we have been led to believe that are not true.

    I wonder what the military is going to do here when they are ordered to fire on and kill all protesters when this happens here? Will you Mister Military Guy or Gal kill your American Brothers and Sisters and Children to protect the very people who have voluntarily created and perpetrated this crime against America, the Bankers, Politicians, and the Criminals who are the Foreign Corporations who you kill for now all over the world, will you kill your own countrymen to protect them? You will be asked to do so, if you haven't already.

    It's a shame that the People allowed this to happen. It is entirely our, THE PEOPLE's, fault!

    February 1, 2011 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
  10. Cesar

    @Vallen, so much truth to your post, but a bit unrealistic and pessimistic toward the end. There won't be killing of protesters here.

    February 1, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Matt

    Well, I'm not sure I'm as pessimistic as Vallen, but I do remember something regarding Kent State in which that very thing happened (military firing on protesters).

    February 1, 2011 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
  12. isgo

    Perfect as clear as drinking water. No, say that instead of reaching the violent point this conflict will be settle on the table, negotiating and reaching the best solutions for all parts. There is a possibility and this is withing the hands of the educated population of Egypt who know that the best for the country is not revolution but evolution. If the government has failures those has to be corrected, if Mubarak is not a good leader then help him making the country better, if there are no opportunities, create them. Now there is a totally different reality from my standing point, but for sure Egypt deserves better responses for their problems, and more assertive solutions for their needs.

    February 2, 2011 at 8:04 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Keifer

    What kind of government do the Egyptian citizens want?

    February 3, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  14. prab801

    For reading latest stories from your favorite sites, visit us at
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    February 9, 2011 at 11:23 pm | Report abuse |
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