As of Friday Egypt began being cut off from text messaging and internet access was disrupted ahead of planned mass protests. At 12:30 am Egyptian time, according to an email sent around by activists, the internet went down completely.
The government is attempting to interfere in dissidents’ ability to organize. Similar techniques were used by the Iranian state in summer of 2009 to deflect the Green Movement.
The extraordinary measures taken by the Hosni Mubarak government to interfere in the protests contrasted with the situation in Sanaa, Yemen, where the government allowed tens of thousands of protesters to come out. Afraid that they might be dispersed, the demonstrators split up, rallying at four different points in the capital. They thereby made it more difficult to deal with them just by closing off a road or two. Pro-government forces staged a counter-rally. This according to Al-Sharq al-Awsat. The Yemeni Interior Ministry said that Yemen is a multi-party, pluralistic society and that parties could protest as long as they did so peacefully. The opposition parties participating were the fundamentalist-yet-tribal al-Islah [Reform], the Yemeni Socialist Party, the Union of Popular Forces, al-Haqq Party, and the Arab Socialist Baath Party. (While it is true that Yemen has several parties, and that in the 1990s the country experimented with relatively free and fair parliamentary elections, the government thereafter interfered more). In any case, President Ali Abdullah Saieh (so far) seems to think there isn’t much harm in letting people blow off steam this way. Rural towns have seen protests for some time.
Back to Egypt: rumors are flying that secret police are themselves dousing automobiles with gasoline and are planning to set them aflame and to blame Muslim fundamentalists for various acts of sabotage, as a way of discrediting the protests. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of these charges.
Arabic wire services, reporting from Cairo, alleged that the Egyptian state has already arrested 1,000 or so activists, and has charged 149 with attempting to overthrow the government. Meanwhile the ruling National Democratic Party held a special meeting, chaired by Gamal Mubarak, the son of the beleaguered president.
Thursday saw only scattered protests, as the opposition nursed its strength for a big show of force on Friday afternoon. Streets were deserted on Thursday night in Cairo. In Suez on Thursday, crowds set a fire station on fire and continually charged the police station.
At the same time, the government began positioning special operations forces throughout likely flash points in Cairo.
The Egyptian authorities have arrested 8 leaders of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in advance of planned major anti-government rallies on Friday afternoon after Friday prayers. The MB had been on the sidelines regarding the protests but has announced it will participate in Friday’s rallies. The NYT says that the more quietist Salafi fundamentalists say they will not demonstrate.
Matt Smith at CNN says that “Mubarak faces his toughest challenge yet, interviewing Nathan Brown, Fawaz Gerges and me on the Egyptian president’s prospects and likely next moves.
Josh Levs at CNN on what the protests in Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen do and do not have in common. I’m quoted. “Secular generalists” should have been “secular generals.”