By all accounts, Friday is going to be an enormously significant day for Egypt. The protests against the regime of Hosni Mubarak — president/autocrat since Anwar al-Sadat’s 1981 assassination — began on Tuesday and accelerated through Wednesday, and were centered in Cairo, but extended to other Egyptian cities. The first protesters were predominantly youths, organizing their efforts via social media, including twitter and Facebook. That online opposition, calling itself the “April 6th  Youth Movement,” had been developing for some time, ever since the regime crushed a strike of textile workers in 2008; but the heartening spectacle of protesters in Tunisian successfully forcing president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee to Saudi Arabia was the immediate catalyst that precipitated the Egyptian youths’ uprising.
The protests were enormous — tens of thousands took to the streets — but not excessively violent. Videos leaked from the protests show security officers dispersing protesters using tear gas and hoses, and sometimes rubber bullets, as protesters hurled back rocks. As of last night, five deaths had been reported — though many more have been detained.
Now, several more groups are signing up with the protesters. The largest and most forceful opposition in Egypt is the Muslim Brotherhood. It had no involvement in Tuesday’s sparking of the protests, but will attempt to use tomorrow’s protests to its own advantage. Today, liberal intellectual and long-time opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei announced that he would return to Egypt to try to lead the opposition efforts. Protesters have already announced intentions to augment their efforts on Friday — the Muslim holy day and beginning of the weekend. As Egyptians leave their mosques, they will take to the streets.
It will be interesting to see both the conflict between the regime and the opposition, and the conflicts within the opposition — whether Egypt’s relatively secular youth, or the Muslim Brotherhood, will gain the most.
Elliott Abrams offers some edifying commentary:
January will not end without one more Friday, the day when large crowds gather at mosques in Egypt as throughout the Muslim world. So far the demonstrators in Egypt have appeared to be largely secular and often young. If Thursday and then Friday pass without additional large demonstrations, the regime will have staved off the immediate challenge. But if crowds emerge from Friday prayers and take to the streets, the regime could be in real trouble. No one knows that better than President Mubarak and his security chiefs, so they will be out in even greater force than we’ve yet seen. Friday will be a fateful day.
Also, don’t miss today’s editorial on the uprisings. I will continue to post updates here as the story develops.
UPDATE (3:07pm): Reuters reports that press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters that the U.S. is “not taking sides” in the conflict in Egypt. A particularly wonderful on-the-ground account of Wednesday is here.
UPDATE (5:11pm): The Times reports that the streets were quiet in Cairo today, as protesters plan to make their main efforts tomorrow. Mohamed ElBaradei has said he is ready to lead: “If people, in particularly young people, if they want me to lead the transition I will not let them down. My priority right now is to see a new Egypt and to see a new Egypt through peaceful transition.” The Mubarak regime has for the most part attempted to contain the protests, neither responding to protesters demands, nor acting violently enough to incite international intervention. The Egyptian government has stated that 800 protesters have been arrested, but some human-rights groups say it was more than 2,000.
UPDATE (5:25pm): The Associated Press has captured video of a protester being shot at long range by police, here. Vadim Lavrusik explains how Egyptian youths are bypassing the regime’s internet blocks on social media.
UPDATE (6:00pm): There are now multiple reports that the internet — everything — is down in Egypt. This comes shortly after the AP video of a protester being shot. It’s now 1 am in Cairo. Today was relatively quiet. More than 80,000 Egyptians have committed on Facebook to taking to the streets to protest tomorrow. They’re in bed now. But Cairo could be very different by the time we wake up.
UPDATE (6:25pm): Claims of a communication blockout in Egypt continue. Nancy Pelosi tweets: “I support the democratic aspirations of the #Egyptian people & right to peacefully protest #unblockTwitter#unblockFacebook.”