More than a million protesters are gathering around Tahrir Square in Cairo calling for the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Hundreds of thousands of people are also demonstrating in Alexandria and other Egyptian cities.
Protester: “We want Mubarak and his agents to leave. We don’t want them. All the people here are calling for change. We want change.”
Today’s protests mark the largest since the popular uprising against the Mubarak regime began a week ago. Protest organizers have also called for an indefinite strike to be observed across the country. Demonstrators received a major boost Monday when the Egyptian military announced it would not use force during the protests.
Ahead of today’s rally in Egypt, the army arrested a number of government-backed “saboteurs and thugs” trying to infiltrate the protests. Meanwhile, the Mubarak regime is being accused of orchestrating some of the looting that has occurred in recent days in an attempt to stoke fear of instability. Human Rights Watch has revealed evidence tying undercover police officers loyal to Mubarak to acts of violence and looting. The United Nations human rights chief says she has received unconfirmed reports that up to 300 people may have been killed in Egypt over the past week.
On Monday, President Hosni Mubarak’s newly appointed Vice President, Omar Suleiman, attempted to reach out to opposition groups.
Omar Suleiman: “The president asked me today to start communications with all opposition groups immediately, to start a dialogue about all issues raised, regarding reform of the constitution and legislation, and produce an outcome of suggested amendments and a timeline to implement them.”
Egyptian opposition groups met earlier today to discuss possible negotiations with Mubarak. Al Jazeera reports the Muslim Brotherhood is refusing to talk with the regime. Mohamed ElBaradei has called on Mubarak to leave the country by Friday. ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former head of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency, has emerged as a leading voice of the opposition.
Many protesters in Egypt have voiced criticism of the United States for its longtime support of the Mubarak regime. On Monday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs refused to outright call for Mubarak to step down.
Robert Gibbs: “There must be an orderly transition, that a whole range of issues, some which I just talked about, have to be addressed, that there has to be meaningful negotiations with a broad cross-section of the Egyptian people, including opposition groups, that go to answering the very core of the freedoms that people desire.”
The protests in Egypt are continuing to be felt across the Middle East and North Africa. Earlier today, Jordan’s King Abdullah dismissed his government and appointed a new prime minister.
In Tunisia, protesters gathered outside the Tunisian interior ministry on Monday to call for the arrest of officials who had abused and tortured Tunisians during the reign of dictator Ben Ali, who was ousted last month after a popular uprising.
Sufyan Trabelsi: “Our first demand is that the interior ministry be cleansed, because it oversaw torture against Tunisians. A lot of the people in the ministry should be sentenced for killing our people, people like Muqazza [an official at the ministry], who have killed our people. Our second demand is that political powers in this country are all represented in this government. We are against the marginalization of political powers in this government.”
In related news, a United Nations team said today that 219 people died last month in Tunisia during the protests which toppled the government.
A federal judge has ruled President Obama’s sweeping healthcare legislation is unconstitutional because it requires Americans to buy health insurance. U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson in Florida issued the ruling Monday but did not suspend the legislation. The Obama administration says it intends to appeal the ruling. Judge Vinson was appointed to the bench by former president Ronald Reagan.
The Haitian government has announced it is ready to issue a diplomatic passport to former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, opening the way for his return home from almost seven years in exile in South Africa. Aristide was ousted in 2004 in a U.S.-backed coup. In 1990, the former Catholic priest became Haiti’s first freely elected president, and he remains very popular. Meanwhile, Haitian election officials are expected to end months of political uncertainty on Wednesday by announcing definitive presidential vote results and revealing who will be on the final runoff ballot next month. On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Haiti and said President René Préval’s chosen successor Jude Célestin should withdraw from the runoff vote amid evidence of election fraud in his favor in the first round in November.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is renewing its call for the Obama administration to stop deportations to Haiti after at least one Haitian national died of cholera-like symptoms just weeks after he was deported from the United States. The Obama administration resumed deportations to Haiti in January. The Center for Constitutional Rights reports the deported Haitians were exposed to cholera when they were held in police deportation holding cells in Haiti. Sunita Patel is a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Sunita Patel: “At least one person that we know of has died of cholera-like symptoms. It’s just a complete tragedy that the government of the United States has done nothing to stop the deportations, despite knowledge that this stuff has happened and despite their awareness that this could potentially happen to people once they’re deported to Haiti.”
In news that could impact the 2012 presidential race in the United States, Jon Huntsman, the U.S. ambassador to China, has informed the White House that he plans to step down at the end of April. A former Republican governor of Utah, Huntsman is widely expected to run for president on the Republican ticket.
Iran has summoned an American woman to return to the country on February 6 to stand trial for spying along with two other U.S. citizens. Sarah Shourd, her fiancé Shane Bauer and their friend Josh Fatal were arrested in 2009 while hiking near the Iraq-Iran border. Shourd spent 14 months in jail before being released on bail in September. Iran has warned it will seize the $500,000 bail if she does not return. Bauer and Fatal have been held in an Iranian jail for more than 18 months. On Monday, several international figures, including actor Sean Penn, MIT professor Noam Chomsky and retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, issued an appeal for Iran to release the two men still detained.
Weeks after the Tucson shooting that left six people dead and 13 wounded, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), gun advocates in Arizona are promoting a firearms bill that would allow guns on college campuses and inside government buildings, including the State Capitol. According to Arizona State Senate Bill 1201, public places or events could ban firearms only if they post the correct sign, provide firearm lockers, and have armed security and a metal detector. The law would apply to university classrooms, city buses and community festivals.
In other news from Arizona, a team of undercover investigators sent by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg visited a gun show in Phoenix to demonstrate how easily a weapon similar to the one used in the Tuscon shooting could be purchased. With hidden cameras, the investigators first purchased a Glock-17 handgun, then an extended 33-round magazine like the one suspected shooter Jared Loughner used in his attack. Undercover video also revealed how investigators were able to buy guns without a background check.
Investigator: “I’m looking for something like this, you know, nine-mil with stopping power and, you know, something that’s concealable. You know what I mean?”
Salesman: “Next to this one, that’s probably the newest one I’ve got. This one has never been shot.”
Investigator: “Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s brand new?”
Investigator: “It’s all tied up.”
Salesman: “The good thing is, if you don’t like it, you can just sell it later, and it’s not in your name. But when you buy a new one, you have to worry about where it’s going to end up.”
Investigator: “Yeah, yeah, yeah. So you’re not one of those, you know, dealer guys, right?”
Salesman: “No. No tax. No form. You don’t have to do transfers or nothing. Just need to see an Arizona ID, and that’s it with me.”
Investigator: “Yeah, so no background check?”
Investigator: “That’s good, ’cause I probably couldn’t pass one, you know what I mean?”
Under federal law the sales of the Glock-17 and the extended magazine were legal because of the so-called “gun show loophole,” which allows gun sellers to trade weapons without a background check. Such sales constitute 40 percent of all gun sales in the U.S.
In an update on a story we covered on Monday, Brooklyn College in New York City has reversed course and has re-hired Kristofer Petersen-Overton to teach a course this semester on the Middle East. Petersen-Overton was let go last week, one day after New York Democratic State Assemblyman Dov Hikind complained about the professor’s views on Israel.
In cultural news, the man considered to be the father of hip hop is facing a medical crisis. Friends of DJ Kool Herc say he is suffering from a very serious illness, but lacks health insurance. While living in the Bronx in the mid-1970s, DJ Kool Herc developed a style of DJing that became the blueprint of hip hop.