A Million Protesters Gather in Cairo As the U.S. Gives Up on Mubarak [Updated]


Hundreds of thousands of protesters have already gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square for today's planned "March of Millions" calling for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. The Army's declaration yesterday that it supported the revolutionaries' "freedom of expression" and would use no force during the demonstrations has emboldened the protesters. The uprising has claimed 125 lives to date, but today's protest, which includes women and children, has gone off without a single altercation, reports Al Jazeera via its live video of the march, now streaming on YouTube. The military has always been "hugely loyal" to the regime, but now men in military uniform are shouting back at the crowd, "We are with you; we are with you." The soldiers have formed a human chain around protesters and are checking for weapons as people enter. Egypt has canceled national services and domestic and international flights (during curfew hours), along with cell-phone service, to stymie protests. But Google and Twitter have teamed up to find a workaround for citizens to send Twitter messages by dialing a phone number and leaving a voice mail. Volunteers are collaborating online to get those messages translated in English.

Mubarak has offered to negotiate with the opposition, but the Muslim Brotherhood, "an officially banned but tolerated movement," says it will not negotiate. Wafd, one of Egypt's oldest parties, said today that a coalition of opposition parties are forming a "national front to deal with the volatile situation since Mubarak has 'lost legitimacy.'"

During a meeting Monday, the White House seemed to arrive at the same conclusion. Although no explicit predictions were made, participants said they saw "no scenario in which Mr. Mubarak remains in power for long," especially as the potential for violence increased. As Mubarak's ouster appears imminent, Washington is scrambling to assess Mohamed ElBaradei. Although he had a contentious relationship with the Bush regime, the Nobel laureate supported the decision to give Obama the peace prize, but on Sunday he called the president's decision not to abandon Mubarak "a farce."

This morning, Al Jazeera's Gregg Carlstrom tweeted from Tahrir Square that he "[h]eard a lot of criticism in Tahrir about Obama's 'Egypt envoy.'" One man: "We want to do this change by ourselves."

Al Jazeera English [YouTube]
Google launches Twitter workaround for Egypt [Reuters]
Giant protest kicks off in Egypt [Al Jazeera English]
Mubarak Offers to Negotiate [WSJ]
U.S. Scrambles to Size Up ElBaradei [NYT]

Update: Today's protests aren't contained to just Cairo. The Guardian is reporting huge demonstrations in Suez, Alexandria, Ismailiya, Mansoura, Damietta, and Mahalls. Human Rights Watch says there are angry scenes on the roads between Cairo and Alexandria, with tanks blocking the road, officers with guns, traffic jams, and irate citizens. It's still unclear whether the people gathered in Tahrir Square, who remain peaceful, plan on marching toward Mubarak's presidential palace, but police have begun putting barbed wire around his residence. The U.S. has ordered all nonemergency embassy and U.S. government personnel to leave the country.

Standard & Poor's has downgraded Egypt's credit rating to BB, its second-highest "junk" rating. The stock market is closed and will also be shut tomorrow. With banks likewise shut, it's difficult for Cairenes to get cash to buy food. For those with money, the cost of food is on the rise as locals bombard the few open stores and shop owners hike up prices. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the IMF’s managing director, said yesterday that he does not foresee a global economic impact beyond the price of oil, which is still above $100 a barrel, adding, "The IMF is ready to help in defining the kind of economic policy that could be put in place.”

Two days before the initial protests, the IMF predicted that political unrest would force the government to increase spending on social services and advised Mubarak's regime to do away with subsidies on petroleum products, which almost exclusively benefited the wealthy. "If the new government goes for the popular package — raising wages, increasing subsidies [to the poor]," said Ahmed Galal, executive director of the Egyptian Center for Economic Studies, "it might actually appear as responding to the crowd but it will likely raise inflation and economic instability.”

Although the West is wary of religious extremists entering the vacuum left by Mubarak's regime, experts say that the protests show the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in the demonstrations has been exaggerated. Khalil al-Anani, an expert on Egypt's political Islamists at Durham University, told the Guardian:

"The Mubarak regime was adept at inflating the influence of the Brotherhood and painting them as a threat to Egyptian society and to the west. It was the pretext for Mubarak's rule, and it was a lie. I think that if Egypt held free and fair elections tomorrow the Brotherhood would not get a majority; it would enjoy a significant presence in parliament, but the overall makeup of seats would be pluralistic."

Egypt protests - live updates [Guardian UK]
Egyptians Face Food Inflation by Day, Roaming Looters at Night [BusinessWeek]
IMF vows to help Egypt reform [Financial Times UK]
Egypt protesters play down Islamist party's role [Guardian UK]

*Stay tuned for updates.