Tunisia and domino effect
The sudden fall of Tunisian President Ben Ali, who had been a dictator for 23 years, sent waves of protests against the authoritarian regimes through the Arab world, where autocratic leaders preside over similarly repressive governments.
Unemployment, poverty, disparity of income among rich and poor as well as deficit in democracy are the principal sources of frustration among common people.
Egypt is the largest Muslim Arab country with 80 million people. 90% are Muslims. The youths have led the revolt. That the youths overcame the fear factor in protesting against the president is a psychologically important fact.
Since January 25, anti-government protests have been intensifying across Egypt, as police clash with demonstrators in several cities demanding the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak (82). Hundreds of judges joined the protests in Cairo.
Reports say that Egyptian opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei, former Director General of IAEA, said that President Hosni Mubarak must go, and added that the president "did not understand the message of the Egyptian people." Earlier, he was soaked by water cannon and surrounded by police as he joined protesters on the streets of Cairo.
A protester in Suez was killed in clashes with police, witnesses said. In Cairo, police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse the crowds, who responded by throwing stones. Live TV pictures from Cairo showed what appeared to be army vehicles on the streets.
In one location, an army vehicle appeared to go into reverse when it was surrounded by protesters who raised their fists in celebration.
Internet and phone services -- both mobile and landline -- have been severely disrupted, although protesters are using proxies to work around the restrictions.
Reuter said that protesters had also gathered outside al-Azhar mosque, and near one of the presidential residences in the capital.
In Alexandria, it is reported that the protest turned into a block-by-block battle and then, almost incredibly, a more than two-hour pitched street battle ended with protesters and police officers shaking hands and sharing water bottles on the same street.
On January 30, despite curfew, tens of thousands protesters gathered at the Tahrir (Liberation) Square in Cairo and the army did nothing to hold them back. Rather protesters climbed on to the armoured vehicles, and in one footage an army officer was shown being carried aloft by protesters because of his support.
The French government said it had received reports that four French journalists covering the protests in Cairo had been arrested. They were later released.
It is reported that 160 people have been killed and 4,000 injured -- as of January 30 -- since the protests against unemployment, corruption and rising prices began. Thousands of people have been reportedly arrested
In New York, Cambridge, Mass., and Washington, protesters took to the streets demanding that Mubarak step down.
Outside the Egyptian Embassy, a few miles from the White House, demonstrators also criticised the Obama administration's response to the tumult in Egypt. They waved Egyptian flags and held signs that read "Obama: Democracy or Hypocrisy?" and "Victory to the Egyptian People!"
President Mubarak addressed the nation and said that he had asked the government to resign. He later appointed intelligence chief Omar Suleiman as vice-president for the first time. The president firmly said that he would not allow the country to be destablised. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabian King lent his support to President Mubarak.
President Barack Obama issued a plea for restraint in Egypt after meeting with national security aides to assess the Cairo government's response to the widespread protests that are threatening the stability of the country.
After speaking to Mubarak by telephone on January 28, President Obama delivered a four minute statement calling on the Egyptian leader to take steps to democratise his government and refrain from using violence against his people. The US president called on the Egyptian authorities not to use violence against the political protests, driving home his message in a reportedly 30-minute call with the Egyptian president.
President Obama has been acutely conscious to avoid any perception that the US has been quietly engineering the ouster of a major ally in the Middle East. The US Secretary of State called for an "orderly transition."
Egypt is one of the largest recipients of US aid, receiving $1.3 billion annually in military assistance alone, because it has been a pillar of US foreign policy in a volatile region, and because the US particularly fears a government dominated by Muslim Brotherhood, which may not honour the 1979 Peace Treaty with Israel.
Key allies Britain and Germany expressed concern about the violence, with Britain saying the protesters had "legitimate grievances."
Analysts say that the Egyptian leadership sees the protest as being similar to the events of 1977 when Anwar Sadat, the then president, announced plans to end subsidies on basic food items, setting off 36 hours of rioting. They see a repeat of the threat from Islamic militants in the 1990s, which the government was able to suppress.
Observers say that the leaders have fallen back on a familiar strategy -- dispatching security forces, blaming Islamists and saying that the protesters were driven by economic and not political concerns.
It seems that it is now a battle of will between the protesters and the government. One party has to concede because the country cannot afford the continuing turmoil. Stock prices have dropped and places of tourism have been closed, because of which the economy of the country will suffer heavily. The US, Turkey and India have sent planes to evacuate their citizens.
It is important to see whether the Egyptian military has an exit strategy for the president. Some suggested negotiations with the leaders of protesters. The appointment of a vice- president after 30 years may indicate that President Mubarak is seriously thinking of a successor.
In Yemen, Mauritania and Jordan, thousands gathered against the governments, venting their anger at rising prices, unemployment and lack of voice in government.