Tahrir Square in central Cairo is again packed with people calling for the ouster of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Protesters have dubbed Friday the "day of leaving" or "day of departure" after 10 days of public demonstrations against the government. We'll keep this post update as the day progresses. (This post will update automatically every five minutes.)
Update at 6:18 p.m. ET: It's 1:18 a.m. in Cairo. Today has seen less violence than days prior. Still, the the country's health minister announced today that since the start of the protests, 11 people have died and around 5,000 were injured.
We're pausing the blog right now. But we'll leave you with the words of two Egyptians who have come face-to-face with government forces. Marem Mazen, a Bloomberg journalist based in Sudan, was on vacation in Egypt. She was with a couple of people trying to get medical supplies and food back to people who were injured the night before, when a mob of Mubarak supporters followed them. She recounts a harrowing moment:
A policeman looked me in the eye and said: "You will be lynched today," running his finger across his neck. Others spat on us. They hit the two men in our group in the face through the broken windows, scratching Mahmoud and punching my other male friend. Someone pulled my hair from the back.
An army officer was standing right next to the car as well. Several of us screamed during the hail of blows and grabbed his hand, asking for protection. He just looked at us and told us not to be afraid.
Mazen was riding with a blogger who goes by sandmonkey. He's been tweeting from Egypt and today he dispatched this particularly notable tweet that very succinctly frames the debate:
This, more than anything, has been a war of ideas. Ours is freedom, personal rights & end of dictatorship; theirs isn't. #jan25
Update at 6:02 p.m. ET: As we reported a few days ago, Google engineers have set up a system in which Egyptians can call a number, leave a message and that message gets tweeted to @speaktotweet. Now a project called Alive In Egypt is translating and indexing all those voicemails in English, French and Spanish. Here's one from someone who calls to express their frustration. The variety of voices is amazing::
Update at 3:30 p.m. ET: President Barack Obama told reporters today that the government transition process in Egypt must begin now. He also said that violence in Egypt violates human rights and international norms. The president made the statements during a joint news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Update at 2:23 p.m. ET: In his daily press briefing, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs says the the president has heard "disturbing" reports about journalists, especially international journalists, who have been systematically targeted. Many have been held and "beaten," he said. "That type of activity is deplorable. If journalists are being held they must be released immediately."
Gibbs also repeated what the administration has been saying for days: That the Mubarak administration has to engage with the protesters, restrain from violence and that the "government must undertake negotiations, direct negotiations toward an orderly transition that gets to free and fair elections." That process needs to start "now."
But Gibbs also said that "these are solution that can and will only be determined by the Egyptian people."
Update at 2:06 p.m. ET: Reuters reports that Mohamed ElBaradei has denied the Der Standard report saying he would not for president. Quoting an interview with Al Jazeera in Arabic, it reports:
"This is not true,'' ElBaradei said in a phone interview with Al Jazeera. "If the Egyptian people want me to continue the change process, I will not disappoint the Egyptian people."
ElBaradei has tended to answer the question of whether he wants to run for president, often asked of him, by saying he was ready for a role in helping Egypt achieve political change. He has also said he would consider running if there was a prospect of a free and fair election.
Update at 1:44 p.m. ET: Perhaps this video, just uploaded to YouTube and purported to be taken today at Tahrir Square, shows a bit of the "ecstatic" atmosphere we reported on earlier:
Update at 12:01 p.m. ET: Quoting Austrian paper Der Standard, the AP reports that Nobel Laureate and opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei said he would not run for president:
ElBaradei was also quoted by Der Standard newspaper as saying President Hosni Mubarak should step down immediately, but that he should be able to do so with "dignity."
"No, I will not take part. The best I can do is act as an agent for change," he said, when asked whether he would stand in presidential elections. "Naturally I want to play a part in the future, but who stands in the election, that's really not so important at the moment."
Update at 11:37 a.m. ET: The Atlantic's Graeme Wood writes a detailed dispatch of the mood at Tahrir Square. Here's a particularly poignant paragraph:
And yet today it seemed as if many of the protesters want never to leave. The atmosphere a few days ago was doomed but resolute, like the last days of the Alamo. Now it was ecstatic, with an optimism that seemed wholly warranted. "We understand Mubarak's strategy, and we reject him," a young man who spent five days in the square told me. "This is a place of liberation [tahrir], not negotiation. Over our dead bodies." Two days ago those last words might have been sounded prophetic, but now they sounded merely figurative.
Update at 11:24 a.m. ET: Last night, ABC News aired an interview with vice president Omar Suleiman. Christiane Amanpour asked Suleiman if the pro-Mubarak protesters were organized by the government. He said the men on camels and horses were tour operators. He also said the government would not use any violence against protesters, but they will "ask them go to go home." He said there was "no way" that the government would push out anti-government protesters from the streets. Here's the full interview:
Update at 11:17 a.m. ET: An Al Jazeera producer reports on a group of anti-government protesters facing off with pro-Mubarak protesters. In this instance, he says, there's no violence:
At 7:26 a.m. ET, it is nearly 2:30 p.m. in Cairo and the chanting crowds in Tahrir are being described as peaceful after two days of violent clashes between pro- and anti-government forces. Al Jazeera is describing a "very visible" Army presence in the area of the square and a says the mood of the people is celebratory.
NPR's Corey Flintoff visited the demonstrators this morning and heard that they don't plan to leave until change comes at the top of the government.
The AP reports that Egypt's defense minister made an appearance in the square Friday:
"Egyptian Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi visited the square Friday morning and talked to protesters, the most prominent government official to do so in more than 10 days of unprecedented demonstrations demanding an end of Mubarak's nearly 30-year rule. Soldiers checked IDs to ensure those entering were not police in civilian clothes or ruling party members and performed body searches at the square's entrances, a sign that Egypt's most powerful institution was sanctioning the demonstration thoughTantawi tried to convince those he spoke to end it."
The New York Times is reporting that the White House is talking to Egyptian officials about the possibility of President Mubarak stepping down in favor of a caretaker government headed by Vice President Omar Suleiman. From the NYT:
Even though Mr. Mubarak has balked, so far, at leaving now, officials from both governments are continuing talks about a plan in which Mr. Suleiman, backed by Lt. Gen. Sami Enan, chief of the Egyptian armed forces, and Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, the defense minister, would immediately begin a process of constitutional reform.
The proposal also calls for the transitional government to invite members from a broad range of opposition groups, including the banned Muslim Brotherhood, to begin work to open up the country's electoral system in an effort to bring about free and fair elections in September, the officials said.
Despite the talks, there are no signs that Mubarak himself is ready to relinquish power.
And there are Egyptians who wonder why Mubarak has to go right now and worry that lawlessness might descend should he leave. That's according to Issandr El Amrani, an Egyptian blogger who spoke to Steve Inskeep on Morning Edition.