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Tags: Egypt Watch

A Constitution of the Brotherhood?



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The Telegraph has an alarming report about Tarek al-Bishry who has been appointed chairman of the constitutional panel. Apparently he has a number of affiliations with Islamist organizations. 

 

Tarek al-Bishry, the chairman of the constitutional panel, is a respected judge who criticised former president Hosni Mubarak and is regarded as moderate in his views. But he has been associated with Al-Wasat, an offshoot of the Brotherhood.

He has selected a committee made up mainly of judges and politicians, including a judge who is a Coptic Christian, but also a former Muslim Brotherhood MP. There are no women.

Wael Abbas, the best-known human rights blogger in Egypt, who was sentenced to prison by the Mubarak regime last year, said it was a “worrying” choice.

“There is no such thing as a moderate Islamist,” he said. “We want a secular state that respects all religions and which belongs to all religions.”

Mr Mubarak banned the Muslim Brotherhood and often warned that his regime was a bulwark against Islamic fundamentalism, a claim repeatedly attacked by protesters on Tahrir Square in the days leading up to his removal from office.

 

The Brotherhood has said it does not intend to put forward a candidate at presidential elections, and does not want to institute Islamic rule, as in Iran. But it yesterday said it was in the process of forming a political party to represent its views in parliament.

In another sign of increased freedoms for Islamists, the Gama’a Islamiya, the radical group responsible for a wave of terror attacks in the 1990s, held a public meeting in a town in southern Egypt on Monday night, according to a local newspaper, Al-Masry al-Youm.

Something, to say the least, to keep an eye on.

 

Moving Forward in Egypt



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The Supreme Military Council now governing Egypt has convened a panel of jurists to swiftly revise the Egyptian constitution in the next two weeks, and expects to hand the country back to civilian control within six months. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood are being included in the constitutional revision efforts. The Times has the story:

 

Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who heads the military council, told the panel that he hoped to yield control to civilian rulers in six months or less, according to Sobhi Saleh, the former Muslim Brotherhood lawmaker. The Muslim Brotherhood, banned by former President Hosni Mubarak, also issued a statement on Tuesday declaring its intention to again become an official political party “when the time is right.”

The constitutional panel will be trying to fix a document that concentrated power in the hands of Mr. Mubarak and his allies, by removing or amending clauses including one that severely restricted who could run for president. The panel of eight people is headed by a former judge, Tareq el-Bishri, and includes a Coptic Christian judge and three experts in constitutional law.

“The committee is technical and very balanced,” Mr. Saleh said. “It has no political color, except me, since I was a member of Parliament. Tantawi told us try and finish as fast as we can.”

Some analysts voiced concern that the military’s schedule was too brisk. “Constitutional amendments in 10 days?” said Michael Wahid Hanna, a fellow at the Century Foundation in New York.

“We’re talking about the architecture of the nation. That’s just crazy,” he said.

Some in the opposition welcomed the brisk schedule as evidence that the officers were eager to turn over power to a civilian authority. But others, noting that the military had so far excluded civilians from the transitional government, questioned whether the schedule might signal just the opposite. They worried that the military might be trying to manipulate events to preserve its power by rushing the process and denying political parties and candidates enough time to organize for a meaningful, fair election that could elect a strong civilian government.

Two generals on the governing Supreme Military Council presented the plan — which calls for writing the amendments in 10 days and holding the referendum within two months — in a meeting on Sunday night with the revolution’s young leaders.

The meeting appeared to be the military’s first significant effort to reach out to the civilian opponents of Mr. Mubarak, and two of the young protest organizers, true to their movement’s Internet roots, promptly summarized the meeting in a post on Facebook.

“The first time an Egyptian official sat down to listen more than speak,” they wrote of their meeting with the generals, Mahmoud Hijazi and Abdel Fattah. The two young leaders, Wael Ghonim and Amr Salama, also praised the generals’ attentive demeanor and the absence of the usual “parental tone (you do not know what is good for you, son).”

Still, the two reserved judgment about the military’s plan, and others in the group said their coalition had yet to make a final assessment of it.

Iranian Regime Threatens



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After Monday saw the larges demonstrations (ostensibly in solidarity with Egyptian protesters, but in fact against the regime) in Iran since those of June, 2009, Tuesday saw fewer protests, but vociferous calls for a crackdown from Iranian parliament. Several MP’s wish to execute protest leaders as the “corrupt of the earth.” The Times reports

 

Members of the Iranian Parliament called on Tuesday for the two most prominent opposition leaders to be prosecuted and sentenced to death for stirring unrest.

The call came as confrontations between government authorities and protesters inspired by the Tunisia and Egypt revolutions continued to unfold elsewhere in the region, with violent clashes in Bahrain and Yemen.

The protests in Tehran and other Iranian cities on Monday brought thousands onto the streets, defying an official prohibition and reviving memories of the mass protests that convulsed Iran after the disputed presidential election in 2009.

The demonstrations were ostensibly called to offer support for the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, but they soon turned into what opposition figures depicted as a renewal of the anti-government sentiment that the authorities sought to quash last year.

Iran’s two man opposition leaders, Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Mussein Moussavi, were prevented from attending the protests on Monday in Tehran.

Nonetheless, the official IRNA news agency reported, 222 members of the 290-seat Parliament issued a statement on Tuesday saying they “are corrupts on earth and should be tried.” the official IRNA news agency quoted members of parliament as saying in a statement.

The offense of being “corrupt of the earth,” a catchall indictment of political dissent, carries the death sentence. It was not immediately clear whether the two men would be arrested. Both are under effective house arrest with their communications and movements restricted.

Iranian Prosecutor General Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei said that the judiciary will deal “firmly and swiftly” with those behind the riots, the state-controlled Press TV said.

The official fury seemed to denote the authorities’ displeasure and embarrassment at their opponent’s ability to muster a significant display of defiance.

A spokesman for Mr. Moussavi said the protests had shown that the so-called Green Movement, formed to challenge the disputed election in 2009, had scored a “great victory” and was “alive and well” despite a huge government crackdown when the government quashed dissent through the shooting of demonstrators, mass trials, torture, lengthy jail sentences and even executions of some of those taking part.

“Our Tahrir Square”



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Bahrain demonstrators are gathering in Pearl Square, at the center of the capital city of Manama — they call Pearl Square “our Tahrir.”

 

Two Dead, Crowds Galvanized, in Bahrain



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Bahrain is now witnessing the largest demonstrations in the island kingdom’s history. 

On Monday, one protester was killed by police, leading to outrage and more demonstrations. Here is the Times report:

 

Protesters waved flags and chanted “peaceful” under the square’s towering monument as a police helicopter hovered overhead. Hundreds of protesters also massed on a nearby bridge overpass.

While festive, the atmosphere among protesters, who passed out sandwiches and talked about creating their own version of Egypt’s Tahrir Square, was cut through with a sense of foreboding as dozens of police cars could be seen gathering nearby. The police blocked protesters from the square on Monday.

Protesters on Tuesday chanted: “We’re not Sunni. We’re not Shiite. We just want to be free.”

Hours before, protesters clashed with the police and a second demonstrator was killed by gunfire, spurring the largest Shiite bloc to suspend its participation in the country’s Parliament.

The events came after thousands of mourners gathered for the funeral of the Shiite protester shot to death during what was called a Day of Rage protest on Monday, modeled on outbursts of discontent that have toppled autocratic regimes in Tunisia and Egypt since mid-January and spread on Monday to Iran.

With only about a million residents, half of them foreign workers, Bahrain has long been among the most politically volatile countries in the region. The principal tension is between the royal family under King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa and the ruling elites, who are mostly Sunnis, on one side, and the approximately 70 percent of the population that is Shiite, on the other.

But protesters young and old called for a new Constitution and democratic changes to allow for a more effective representative Parliament and government. King Hamad has been promising to open up the political system for a decade, but progress has been slow.

As protests widened around the region for a fifth day after the revolution in Egypt, the king made a rare television appearance in which he offered condolences on the protesters’ deaths and said the process of change in the kingdom “will not stop,” according to the official Bahrain News Agency.

The Arc of Instability



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Egypt’s unrest seems likely to spread throughout the Middle East. The same forces that underlay the uprising there — rising food prices, unemployment, a quickly growing youth population, social media, and the example of citizens of other, similar nations rising up — exist in other Arab nations, as well as the extra inspiration from Egypt’s example. See the news from Bahrain and Yemen. Today, the most sensational and important demonstrations were in Iran. See the BBC for a description and compelling video. 

 

Thousands of opposition supporters have clashed with security forces in the centre of the Iranian capital, Tehran.

Police used tear gas and detained dozens rallying in solidarity with uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. There was one report of a death in Tehran.

The BBC also received reports of similar protests being held in the cities of Isfahan, Mashhad and Shiraz.

Earlier, the police placed opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi under house arrest, according to his website.

It said the move was intended to prevent the former prime minister attending the march in Tehran, which the authorities had prohibited. The road leading to Mr Mousavi’s house was also blocked by police vans.

Fellow opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi, a former speaker of parliament and a senior cleric, is also reportedly under de facto house arrest.

Both men disputed the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 2009, which triggered mass protests that drew the largest crowds in Iran since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. The demonstrations eventually led to a brutal crackdown.

The opposition says more than 80 of its supporters were killed over the following six months, a figure the government disputes. Several have been sentenced to death, and dozens jailed.

 

Paintball shooting

 

In their first major show of dissent since Ashura in December 2009, when eight people were killed, thousands of opposition supporters defied the government ban and gathered at Tehran’s Azadi Square on Monday, chanting, “Death to dictators”.

Riot police and plain-clothes police backed by the elite Republican Guard used tear gas to disperse the protesters, he adds.

Police also fired paintball guns at the demonstrators and beat some with batons.

The fiercest clashes were reported on Azerbaijan Street, close to Azadi Square, and a number of ambulances were seen coming and going. Witnesses told the Associated Press news agency that at least three protesters were wounded by bullets, with dozens of others beaten by the security forces and taken to hospital.

Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency reported that one person had been shot dead by protesters and several others wounded.

Mr Mousavi’s website, Kaleme.com, said that – according to unconfirmed reports – “hundreds of protesters” had been arrested. There has been no official confirmation, but witnesses told BBC Persian that dozens had been taken away in police vans from the area.

Police also later surrounded Tehran University and Sharif University, and the houses of former President Mohammad Khatami and Abdollah Nuri, a former interior minister and head of Tehran City Council.

As night fell, riot police remained deployed in central Tehran, but the protesters dispersed. The local electricity supply was also cut.

Earlier, an activist wearing a green headband – the colour of the main opposition movement – was detained after he climbed a tall crane in the capital and began inviting people to attend Monday’s demonstration.

 

Clinton slams ‘hypocrisy’

 

Although Iran’s establishment officially supports the Egyptian protests, it says the rallies in Iran are a “political move” by opposition leaders.

In anticipation of the rally, the authorities stepped up security in the capital, blocked access to internet sites, and started jamming satellite news channels. Police helicopters also hovered overhead.

Analysts say Tehran is trying to stop opposition groups from using the Egypt rally as a means to re-ignite anti-government protests of 2009.

Both the Iranian government and the opposition have claimed credit for the recent popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

The government says the mass protests were inspired by Iran’s 1979 revolution, while the opposition says its 2009 protests encouraged the unrest. The opposition also says peaceful rallies do not need permission.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hailed the courage and aspirations of the protesters, and spoke of the Iranian government’s “hypocrisy”.

“We are against violence and we would call to account the Iranian government that is once again using its security forces and resorting to violence to prevent the free expression of ideas from their own people,” she told reporters in Washington.

“Secondly, we support the universal human rights of the Iranian people. They deserve to have the same rights that they saw played being out in Egypt and that are part of their own birthright.”

“And thirdly, we think that there needs to be a commitment to open up the political system in Iran, to hear the voices of the opposition and civil society,” she added.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul, who is on a visit to Iran, earlier warned that “when leaders and heads of countries do not pay attention to the demands of their nations, the people themselves take action to achieve their demands”.

BBC Tehran correspondent James Reynolds says the demonstrations make one key point – the opposition Green Movement is still alive, but it is not yet clear if it poses a serious threat to Iran’s establishment.

These are the biggest demonstrations in Iran since the crushing of the uprising in June 2009. 2011 could be very, very interesting times for the middle east.

 

Israel Evacuates Embassy in Cairo



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A worrying signal:

Since the announcement that Hosni Mubarak has stepped down, people have been celebrating across the world. But one group isn’t joining the party: Israel’s representatives in Cairo.The embassy here has been shut down indefinitely, and the Israeli flag was removed from the building’s roof. Israel’s diplomats and their families have allegedly been evacuated due to security concerns. 

Israel has long feared that the fall of the Mubarak could lead to a renunciation of their peace accord with Egypt. The Supreme Council of the Egyptian Armed Forces announced that they will support all current treaties. Following the 6 Day War and years of negotiations, the two sides signed a peace pact in 1981, but the price has been Egypt’s role as the leader of the Arab World. 

As recent Wikileaks documents revealed, the Mubarak regime worked closely, if not openly, with Israel to supress Palestinian efforts for self-determination, but it’s now unclear if the two sides will collaborate in the future. But as the recent events in Liberation Square illustrate, swift and unpredictable changes are always possible in Egypt.

Obama’s Speech After Mubarak’s Resignation



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There are very few moments in our lives where we have the privilege to witness history taking place. This is one of those moments; this is one of those times. The people of Egypt have spoken. Their voices have been heard and Egypt will never be the same. By stepping down, President Mubarak responded to the Egyptian people’s hunger for change. But this is not the end of the transition, its the beginning. I’m sure there will be many difficult days ahead and many questions remain unanswered. But I am confident that the people of Egypt can find the answers, and do so peacefully, constructively and in the spirit of unity that has defined these last few weeks. For Egyptians have made it clear that nothing less than genuine democracy will carry the day. 

The military has served patriotically and responsibly as a caretaker to the state and will now have to ensure a transition that is credible in the eyes of the Egyptian people. That means protecting the rights of Egypt’s citizens, lifting the emergency law, revising the constitution and other laws to make this change irreversible, and laying out a clear path to elections that are fair and free. Above all, this transition must bring all of Egypt’s voices to the table, with spirit of peaceful protest and perseverance that the Egyptian people have shown can serve as a powerful wind at the back of this change. 

The United States will continue to be a friend and partner to Egypt. We stand ready to provide whatever assistance is necessary and asked for to pursue a credible transition to a democracy. I’m also confident that the same ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit that the young people of Egypt have shown in recent days can be harnessed to create new opportunity, jobs, and businesses that allow the extraordinary potential of this generation to take flight. And I know that a democratic Egypt can advance its role of responsible leadership not only in the region but around the world. 

Egypt has played a pivotal role in human history for over 6,000 years, but over the last few weeks the wheel of history turned at a blinding pace, as Egyptian people demanded their universal rights. We saw mothers and fathers carrying their children on their shoulders to show them what true freedom might look like. We saw a young Egyptian saying, “for the first time in my life I really count, my voice is heard.” Even though I am only one person this is the way real democracy works. We heard protesters change Salmeai Salmeai we are peaceful again and again. 

We saw a military that would not fire bullets at the people they were sworn to protect. We saw doctors and nurses rushing into the streets to care for the people that were wounded. Volunteers checking protesters to make sure they were unarmed. We saw people of faith praying together and chanting – Muslims, Christians chanting “we are one.” And though we know the strains between faiths still divided too many in this world, no single event will close that chasm immediately. These scenes remind us that we need not be defined by our differences; we can be defined by the common humanity that we share. 

And above all, we saw a new generation emerge. A generation that uses their own creativity and talent and technology to call for a government that represented their hopes and not their fears. A government that is responsive to their boundless aspirations. One Egyptian put it simply “most people have discovered in the last few days that they are worth something.” And that can not be taken away from them anymore. Ever. This is power of human dignity. And it can never be denied. Egyptians have inspired us and they’ve done so by putting the lie of the idea that justice is best gained through violence. For in Egypt, it was the moral force of nonviolence, not terrorism, not mindless killing, but nonviolence, the moral force that bent the arc of history to moral justice once more. 

And while all of the sights and sounds we heard were entirely Egyptian, we can’t help but hear the echoes of history. Echoes from Germans tearing down a wall, Indonesian students taking to the streets. Ghandi leading his people down the path of justice. As Martin Luther King said in celebrating the birth of a new nation in Ghana, while trying to perfect his own “There is something in the soul that cries out for freedom.” Those were the cries that came from Tarhir Square.

Obama: “By stepping down, Mubarak responded”



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From his speech at the White House: 

Egypt will never be the same. By stepping down, Mubarak responded to the Egyptian people’s hunger for change. But this is not the end of Egypt’s transition. It is the beginning. I’m sure there will be difficult days ahead, and many questions remain unanswered. But I’m confident that the people of Egypt can find those answers… for Egyptians have made it clear that nothing less than genuine democracy will carry the day.

There was nothing surprising or even specific, but I’ll still post the whole speech once it becomes available.

Who is the Supreme Council?



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The Times has a helpful introduction.

Hamas Welcomes Mubarak Resignation; Ahmadinejad Too



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President Ahmadinejad reportedly says it is one more step toward a world without Israel.

Is this a coup?



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Stratfor say, “Yes, it is.” See, Mubarak Resigns, Military is in Charge | STRATFOR

 

Suleiman’s statement is the clearest indication thus far that the military has carried out a coup led by Defense Minister Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi. It is not clear whether Suleiman will remain as the civilian head of the army-led government. Egypt is returning to the 1952 model of ruling the state via a council of army officers. The question now is to what extent the military elite will share power with its civilian counterparts.

At a certain point, the opposition’s euphoria will subside and demands for elections will be voiced. The United States, while supportive of the military containing the unrest, also has a strategic need to see Egypt move toward a more pluralistic system.

Whether the military stays true to its commitment to hold elections on schedule in September remains to be seen. If elections are held, however, the military must have a political vehicle in place to counter opposition forces, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood. The fate of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) thus lies in question. Without the NDP, the regime will have effectively collapsed and the military could run into greater difficulty in running the country. While the military council will be serving as the provisional government, it will likely want to retain as much of the ruling NDP as possible and incorporate elements of the opposition to manage the transition. Sustaining its hold over power while crafting a democratic government will be the biggest challenge for the military as it tries to avoid regime change while also dealing with a potential constitutional crisis.

Switzerland Freezes Mubarak’s Assets



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See here:

Switzerland has frozen assets possibly belonging to Hosni Mubarak, a Foreign Ministry spokesman tells Reuters.

The spokesman declined to specify how much money was involved. Protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square have told NBC News that not only did they want Mubarak out, but they also “want the money back,” as one said.

Sen. John McCain’s Statement



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“I applaud President Mubarak’s decision to step down. This was obviously a very difficult decision for President Mubarak, but it is the right decision for Egypt.  History will note that President Mubarak’s last action in office was in the best interest of the country he loves.

“While this is a welcomed event, the Egyptian people are clearly saying that President Mubarak’s resignation should be the beginning, not the end, of their country’s transition to democracy.  I completely agree.  For the Egyptian people to achieve the legitimate and enduring democratic change they seek, representatives from Egypt’s pro-democracy parties and movements must be included in the transition government.  In advance of elections later this year, Egyptians must be free to exercise their universal rights peacefully – to speak and express themselves without interference, including over the internet; to organize independent political parties; to register candidates of their choosing for office; and to participate in elections that are free and fair by international standards.

“In the days ahead, the Egyptian military will continue to have a critical role in maintaining order and stability while allowing their fellow Egyptians to exercise their universal rights in peace.  The Egyptian people are demanding a meaningful and irreversible transition to democracy, and I urge the Egyptian military to faithfully support and secure the coming process of political change in Egypt.

“The United States stands fully ready to assist the Egyptian people and government as they begin the hard work of democratic reform.”

“Both of last night’s addresses by Mubarak and Suleiman were in defiance of the armed forces.”



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Ahram Online has the incredible story:

Maj. Gen. Safwat El-Zayat, a former senior official of Egypt’s General Intelligence and member of the Egyptian Council of Foreign Affairs, asserted, in an interview with Ahram Online, that the address delivered by President Mubarak last night was formulated against the wishes of the armed forces, and away from their oversight. He claimed that Vice Preisdent Omar Suleiman’s address, which came on the heels of Mubarak’s address, was equally in defiance of the armed forces and away from its oversight.

Attributing this information to his own sources within the Egyptian military, Maj. Gen. El-Zayat said there was now a deep cleavage between the armed forces, represented in its Supreme Council, and the Presidential authority, represented in both President Mubarak and his Vice President, Omar Suleiman.

According to El-Zayat, communiqué #2 issued this morning by the Supreme Armed Forces Council was not, as many people in Egypt and elsewhere understood it, an affirmation of the addresses of Mubarak and Suleiman, but rather an attempt to avoid an open conflict, while at the same time underlining that the army will act as guarantor for the transition to full democracy. He adivced that people should listen carefully to the anticipated communique #3.

Live Feed



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Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

What Will the Military Do Next? “Sack the Cabinet”?



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That’s the crucial question. El Arabiya has some unsourced predictions (I recommend taking these preliminary reports with a grain of salt):

 

Al Arabiya TV reported that the higher military council will sack the cabinet, suspend both houses of parliament and rule with the head of the supreme constitutional court. The army statement was expected to be delivered later on Friday… Hundreds of thousands of Egyptian protesters waved flags, cried, cheered and embraced in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Friday, shouting “God is Great.”… 

“He has to leave the country, our demands are clear, we want the entire NDP to be dissolved and to get out because they have destroyed the country,” said Magdi Sabri, a smartly dressed middle-aged man outside state television.

 

Reid’s Response



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The Senate majority leader says: 

I am pleased that President Mubarak has heard and heeded the voice of the Egyptian people, who have called for change. It is crucial that Mubarak’s departure be an orderly one and that it leads to true democracy for Egypt, including free, fair and open elections. We caution all sides against violence during this transition, and we will be watching the situation closely. We wish the Egyptian people the best in their next steps toward determining their own future under a democratic process.

This Day in History



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February 11th already was an historic day in the history of the Arab world. It’s known in Iran as the “Islamic Revolution Victory Day.” It was this very day 32 years ago that the Iranian military council declared itself neutral in the political disputes, revolutionaries took state-owned buildings, and the royal regime collapsed. 

On the Ground



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Two videos from Tahrir square of demonstrators celebrating after Suleiman’s announcement of Mubarak’s resignation:

 

 

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