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. shoobs

    How did it get here? It got here because nobody wants Israel around except a few rich Christians and Rich Jews.

    January 31, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
  2. SuperMex

    '....and then I ask myself, did I get here.???..
    "watching the days go by....."

    January 31, 2011 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
  3. mistyy

    The “gradual change” that Hilary is suggesting means that America/Zionists will have enough time to bribe and bring another spy like Mubarak. While they can control people in a gradual process, they cannot control a sudden upraise of masses such as the current one that will bring a real leader that represents people’s interests and not America’s/Zionist. I hope that people of Egypt will not accept anything less than a revolution in leadership, and unconditional removal of Mubarak and all his bribed accomplices. Any other direction will play into America’s/Zionist plan of bribing another leader and tricking Egypt into a gradual change that America/Zionists can control in their favor.

    I cannot understand why people of Egypt cannot find Mubarak and remove him physically, like Romanians did to president Chaushesku decades ago. Also, why not enter the national TV and just say to the whole nation that he is no longer president. This guy is America's/Zionist spy who did everything they wanted him to do, and he did all opposite to what Egyptian people wanted. He deserves nothing less than a humiliating physical removal.

    America/Zionists have paid Mubarak for decades to suppress any democratic movement. Even today when you read America’s/Zionist self-called experts they say they would like to see a democratic change as long as people do not choose this movement or that movement that is not in America’s/Zionist interest. America’s/Zionist hypocrisy is just disgusting. Do not you hypocrites understand that you cannot place conditions on democracy based on America’s criminal and Zionist land occupation goals. Whatever the people choose that’s what they will have!!! And you know very well that all Egyptians are against the Zionist regime, and against Americans as long as the U.S. supports the Zionist regime.

    January 31, 2011 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |

    as yoda would say.. never give into the dark side.. unless they door ding my car..

    January 31, 2011 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Thomas Pallam

    Check my Picasa web alubm -2011 through pictures, for the all Egypt updates.

    January 31, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
  6. duke

    I know what school saddam went to(funded by your tax dollars),
    My comment was aimed at those who don't know that some of their favorite politicians has pals that are terrorist!

    January 31, 2011 at 6:01 pm | Report abuse |
  7. ramesh

    can any one see how far out and disconnecteted our leaders are?

    Hillary Clinton says " the egyptian government is table."
    I can only say that as much as I am impressed with Bill Clinton with what he has done or said after he left the WH.
    Same can not be said about the secretary of state.

    Joe Biden says " Mubarak is not a dictator".
    Mubarak stsrted out well but has been a dictator during most of the tenure of his regime.
    Joe must think again before he says something that he knows is not true or is not a fact.

    This is the top decision makers in the present administration.
    I wonder why they utter such nonsense considering they are provided intel, the whole world is saying something different.
    These ufficials are well paid for the job that it seems they are not fit for.
    I mean they have to eat their words within a couple of hours of uttering it.

    January 31, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
  8. me

    Stop playing into the hands of the puppet masters. We DEFY them when we UNITE!!! Rise up EGYPT!!! Muslims, Christians, Jews ALL EGYPT! Create the land we all long for where Muslims, Jews and Christians can all live together in peace. Don't give in to hate, don't buy into the party lines that there are "American" or "Zionists" etc.. etc... there is only EGYPT. Show the world it can be done. They need to divide us to rob us of our voice, to keep us figting amongst ourselves so they can profit. DO NOT GIVE IN. DEMAND FREEDOM AND JUSTICE AND PEACE FOR ALL IN EGYPT!!!

    January 31, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Report abuse |
  9. fearlessdude

    US Imperialists love friendly dictators. Even unfriendly dictators who can preserve the status quo. Remember in 1956 President Eisenhower reassured the Russians that he will not intervene in Hungary.

    January 31, 2011 at 7:15 pm | Report abuse |
  10. anonymous

    @Bluto, the last time I looked I live in the US with my family and I want to feel safe and comfortable.

    January 31, 2011 at 7:51 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Cesar

    Egyptians are religious fanatics. I don't trust them. I'll take a Hatian over an Egyptian anytime.

    January 31, 2011 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse |
  12. marilyn

    Israel should stop building illegal settlements and inciting the arab world.

    January 31, 2011 at 8:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • dennis

      ... then the Arabs should stop destroying settlements in Israel and inciting violence, and recognize they have a legitimate State and mind their own business and take care of their own people.

      January 31, 2011 at 10:51 pm | Report abuse |
  13. egypthasnoiludopec

    another middle east annoyance moving on...

    January 31, 2011 at 10:06 pm | Report abuse |
  14. dennis

    Global commumication will cause all dictators to fall as their people see how the rest of the world lives; and those in socialist countries will adopt conservative fiscal policies or collapse.

    January 31, 2011 at 10:40 pm | Report abuse |

    The only reason Mubarak hasn't ordered his army to brutally crush the current demonsrations is the fact that Obama and Hilary Clinton told him not to. That would generate very bad PR for both the United States and Great Britain. But I'm afraid that he will anyway if they don't cease.

    January 31, 2011 at 10:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Markey Marshall

      Quite true,RUFFNUTT,quite true. I'm afraid you're right about that cursed Mubarak.

      January 31, 2011 at 10:50 pm | Report abuse |
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