In spite of the Egyptian government's mid-afternoon curfew, thousands of anti-government protesters gathered in Cairo. CNN reports, "The crowd has swelled compared with Saturday and Sunday, and people gathered Monday in Tahrir Square, a focal point of the protests. Some of them said they had spent the night, and the smell of smoke from campfires lingered in the air. Helicopters hovered overhead in Egypt's capital as one group held signs and chanted, 'The Egyptian people want the government to fall.'"
The Muslim country has been rocked by massive demonstrations since last Tuesday, when calls for the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, who has been in power for nearly 30 years, started. Mubarak has not resigned, but his cabinet did and he appointed a Vice President over the weekend. The country has been under "emergency law" for 30 years, which means police can "arrest people without charge, detain prisoners indefinitely, limit freedom of expression and assembly, and maintain a special security court"; more explanation of the tumult here. The U.S. State Department is discouraging Americans from visiting Egypt and is aiding in evacuations, with charter flights beginning today.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said yesterday on Fox News, "We have been very clear that we want to see a transition to democracy, and we want to see the kind of steps taken that will bring that about. We also want to see an orderly transition. Right now, from everything we know, the army has taken up positions. They are responding very positively thus far to the peaceful protests. But at the same time, we have a lot of reports of looting and criminal activity that is not going to be particularly helpful to what we want to see happen, and that has to be dealt with."
Mitch Swenson, a Lower East Side resident who is studying at the American University in Cairo, wrote an account of what it's like there for the Post:
This city has become a slaughterhouse.
I saw police shoot two people to death Friday. And I was shot at the next day.
My room at the Sun Hostel overlooks Tahrir Square.
I'd see police roll in, cowboy style. They'd fire a bunch of tear gas, and then they'd use shotguns with ball bearings in them. They'd fire without regard for anyone...
At night, I'd hear the police shots go off. There are snipers on top of a lot of the buildings. I was walking along the street and found multiple bullets on the ground.
The army is not taking action.
I met a guy named Mustafa who was picked up by the police when he was just walking home.
He was put in a van, driven three hours outside of Cairo to the desert and held in an underground prison along with about 80 other people, he said. It was a bunker with one window and very little food.
They had beaten him, he said. He had a large, stitched gash on his face and nose.
He told me they were trying to kill him. After three days, they gave him medical attention, and they told him, "If anyone talks about this, we'll know and we'll go after your family."
I'm not a religious person, but when I flew to Dubai at 1 p.m. [yesterday], I felt that it was under grace of God.
It was absolute chaos in the airport -- everyone was trying to get out. I don't know if the airport will even be standing in the next couple of days.
Swenson also wrote, "A photojournalist at my hotel went to the hospital, and people grabbed him and said, 'Take a picture of the dead right now, because no one knows what's going on.' He saw bodies stacked on top of each other—hundreds of them." The Egyptian government has been trying to suppress the flow of images and information, by cutting cellphone and Internet service, and ABC News just reports that six Al Jazeera journalists were detained and their equipment was confiscated after their release. Al Jazeera, which has been praised for its coverage of the protests, is unavailable on much of the U.S.'s cable systems; it does offer a livestream online.
Much of the local Egyptian population in NYC has been offering support. The NY Times spoke to one man in Queens who was flying back to Cairo to join the protests, "For the first time, we feel like Egypt can have a democratic future because people are willing to put their lives on the line. The police are firing on the people, but the people are not going home." But they appear wary of opposition leader Mohammed ElBaradei—one Queens resident told the Daily News, "The Egyptian people need someone from Egypt, and he's been all this time outside Egypt," referring to how ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize-winning nuclear expert, has been living in Austria, "He's a genius. He's a good person but he's not for Egypt," while another added, "He doesn't know anything about the Egyptian people."