Posted on Saturday at 7:07 p.m. EST
In his second report today from Cairo, newspaper editor Ahmad Shokr recaps the latest developments in Egypt: the rising death toll, the continuation of mass street protests, and Hosni Mubarak’s decision to name Omar Suleiman, the head of the country’s intelligence services, to be vice president.
AHMAD SHOKR: Cairo is still recovering from damage caused by Friday’s violence. In the heart of the capital city, buildings are still on fire, security vehicle carcasses are littered around the streets, and the choking smell of tear gas has not fully lifted.
The death toll may be much higher than what’s been reported so far. Reports coming out of hospitals suggest that the total death toll across the country for the protests over the past few days may in fact be in the hundreds, but a final figure has yet to be confirmed.
The military are still on the streets, mostly around government buildings. Up to 10 people were killed by sniper fire today in front of the Ministry of Interior. Now, there’s conflicting reports about whether these people were just passersby or were in fact trying to invade and occupy the Ministry of Interior. But there’s still sounds of live ammunition being fired late into the night.
A curfew was imposed at 4:00 p.m. today, though it was not really enforced. Tens of thousands of people gathered once again in Tahrir Square to call for President Mubarak’s resignation, defying the curfew.
Mubarak tonight named a new vice president and prime minister, as he begins to form his new cabinet, which he pledged he would do last night in a speech to the Egyptian people. As vice president he selected the former chief of Egypt’s general intelligence, Omar Suleiman. He was the spy chief for Egypt for almost 20 years and is very well known internationally. He’s believed to play a key role in Egypt’s policy towards Israel-Palestine, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Of course, Egypt has actively cooperated in enforcing a blockade on the Gaza Strip that has been widely criticized around the world. So that was Mubarak’s choice for vice president. For prime minister he named Ahmed Shafik, the former chief of air staff, to the post of prime minister. These choices represent an expansion of the military establishment’s political role. And the immediate reaction of people on the streets has been one of widespread rejection. These are military men who have been very close to Mubarak throughout his rule, and bringing them into high government positions, to many people, simply represents a reshuffling of figures that were close to the president and does not meet the demands of regime change that the protesters have been calling for over the past few days.
There have also been reports of widespread looting around different neighborhoods of the capital city, as well as in Alexandria and Suez. Residents have called on the military to intervene and protect them from looters. Eyewitnesses have said that many of the looters, some of whom were known locally in the neighborhoods that they tried to rob, have been dispatched by the Ministry of the Interior. And there’s a real fear for people’s security tonight. Residents have been organizing neighborhood committees to restore order and provide security in the total absence of the police force, which disappeared from the capital city entirely — almost entirely — today. But many people on the ground believe that the government is, in fact, sponsoring many of this — much of this looting activity and is desperately trying to project an image of total chaos in the absence of Mubarak’s strong government presence and that they’re doing this in order to deter people from continuing to take to the streets and protest for the president’s resignation.
But as we speak, thousands of people are still in Cairo’s central square, Tahrir Square, defying curfew and demanding the president’s ouster.