Pitched battles between protesters and security forces raged in the streets of Cairo on Friday; the ruling party headquarters was set on fire; policemen stripped off their uniforms and badges to join protesters; at one point waves of demonstrators chased hundreds of riot police away from their positions, and ultimately tens of thousands converged on Cairo’s central Tahrir Square; similar scenes of protest and clashes with police played out in several other cities across Egypt. Frustrated by 30 years of autocratic rule, poverty that is estimated to grip half of Egypt’s 80 million people and buoyed by successful anti-government demonstrations in Tunisia, average Egyptians in the streets presented the biggest threat to President Hosni Mubarak’s regime. There are many more questions than answers now, about whether Mubarak can hang on for much longer, about whether a democratic government can take hold in Egypt and whether this grassroots movement can spread to other Middle Eastern countries ruled by authoritarian governments. We take a shot at answering some of those unknowns as a restive Egypt prepares for what should be a pivotal weekend.
Ellen Knickmeyer, Middle East researcher for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting; former Washington Post bureau chief in Baghdad & Cairo, and former West Africa bureau chief for the Associated Press