Emilio Morenatti / AP
Protesters shout slogans Tuesday as they march toward Tahrir square in Cairo.
Emilio Morenatti / AP
Protesters shout slogans Tuesday as they march toward Tahrir square in Cairo.
The State Department has now ordered the mandatory departure of all non-essential embassy staff and their dependents from Egypt but insists it's no big deal.
A State Department official tells NBC News' Courtney Kube that the order "really a natural progression from authorized departure."
"We're not ordering 'everyone' out," the official said, adding, "We're evacuating non-essential embassy personnel but augmenting 'essential' staff to assist amcits." ("American citizens" for the non-diplo speakers out there.)
The State Department says it doesn't know how many people the order affects, but it told Kube it's working on getting the number.
Here's the State Department order:
STATEMENT BY PHILIP J. CROWLEY, ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS
Ordered Departure Declared for Egypt
On February 1, the Department of State ordered the departure of all non-emergency U.S. Government personnel and their families from Egypt in light of recent events. The Department of State will continue to facilitate the evacuation of U.S. citizens who require assistance. Cairo airport is open and operating, but flights may be disrupted and transport to the airport may be disrupted due to the protests. U.S. citizens in Egypt who require assistance, or those who are concerned that their U.S. citizen loved one in Egypt may require assistance, should contact the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Embassy in Cairo at: EgyptEmergencyUSC@state.gov, or at 1-202-501-4444.
Please follow the directions on the Embassy website for all other consular inquiries.
Miguel Medina / AFP - Getty Images
Anywhere from 100,000 to 2 million people gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square, depending on whom you believe.
Update 1:10 p.m. ET: Al-Jazeera has now cut its estimate in half. Earlier: "up to two million." Now: "more than a million."
Wired, meanwhile, offers a way to guesstimate a big crowd.
Estimating crowds is a notoriously inexact science, so much so that the National Park Service stopped doing it for protests in Washington many years ago. That leaves it up to news organizations to make their best guesses.
So it's no surprise that estimates of the crowd that gathered today in Cairo's Tahrir Square are very imprecise and wide-ranging:
• Washington Post: "Tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands."
• New York Times: "Hundreds of thousands."
• Wall Street Journal: "Hundreds of thousands."
• Associated Press: "more than a quarter of a million people."
• Reuters: "At least one million people."
• Al-Jazeera: "Up to two million."
• BBC: "More than 100,000."
• Guardian (U.K.): "An estimated one million people."
• Telegraph (U.K.): "Estimated crowd of more than 1 million."
In January 2009, shortly before Barack Obama's inauguration as president, Steve Doig, a journalism professor at Arizona State University specializing in data analysis, wrote this explanation of why crowd-counting is a mug's game.
A U.S. military plane that ferried some U.S. citizens out of Cairo today had actually been sent in to Egypt to deliver additional security for the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, NBC News' Jim Miklaszewski and Courtney Kube report.
(Details of today's flights: World Blog: How many Americans are in Egypt?)
The plane brought in the 10 to 12 Marines to augment the security force already in Cairo. Rather than let it leave the country empty, the U.S. military agreed to fill the plane with U.S. citizens trying to leave the country. The flight took the Americans to Larnaca, Cyprus.
The State Department has also sent in additional agents of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security to help with security needs in Cairo.
NBC News’ Producer Charlene Gubash has lived and worked in Egypt for over 20 years. In a Q &A over the phone from Cairo, she explained the mood in the city today and her sense of how the country is on a precipitous tipping point that could go either way.
What is the mood in Cairo today?
People are already gathering in Tahrir Square today in anticipation of Tuesday’s planned “million-person march.” Hundreds of thousands of people are reportedly already camping out for the night.
President Hosni Mubarak has just named the new Cabinet – but it hasn’t been accepted by anyone because it’s very similar to the old Cabinet. Many names are similar, but the major posts have changed.
Basically, people are demanding that Mubarak step down and that there is a transitional government – but they obviously don’t want it to include members of the old government.
What to watch next?
A huge portion of the Egyptian population have now joined the young activists who got the protests going – it’s now swollen into a popular movement to bring down Mubarak’s government.
People are no longer afraid of anything. They are no longer afraid of the police, they have found their voice. And they are going through with this thing until the end – until Mubarak steps down and the government is changed.
That’s what we have to watch out for.
Meantime, the security situation – is bad. It’s so bad that the U.S. Embassy has offered to help Americans to leave Egypt. Out of the tens of thousands of Americans who are here, many of them have taken the U.S. up on their offer and are heading to places nearby like Istanbul and Athens.
There is also an exodus of Egyptians. One person who has already left is Mubarak’s daughter-in-law. Many other wealthy families – including one of the most reviled people in the country and a prominent person in the government, Ahmed Ezz, – have left. They have flown to various destinations – primarily London. So, a lot of money has presumably flown out of the country, too. And a lot of other business men are trying to get out.
As someone who has lived in Egypt for over 20 years, are you surprised by how quickly things have changed? Does the speed of recent turn of events seem almost unbelievable?
My sense is that Egypt has entered a new era. This may be the day that people rue actually.
They need to have a transition – a true democratic transition – with a leader like Mohamed ElBaradei around whom the country can coalesce as kind of a progressive, reformist, revered world figure who is well respected by everyone. Or Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League, who is also well-respected by a large segment of the population.
Unless they have moderate transition figures and democratic elections where we don’t see an Islamist figure emerge as the leader of the country, then this country may be headed down the path of becoming another Islamic state. I don’t think that’s completely out of the picture.
It’s a very conservative society. There is no real vigorous political or civil life here. For example, the best organized-party is the Muslim Brotherhood.
People have become increasingly conservative over the years, so there is a fear that if people do vote, they may be swayed to vote for something like the Muslim Brotherhood.
There is a real concern that Egypt will move away from being what it was – which is an extremely tolerant, Westernized society – to something that is more of an Islamist, conservative society that would be hostile to Israel.
If it went that way, probably one of the first things Islamist leaders would do would be to abrogate the peace treaty with Israel which has been a big demand of the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups for years.
But by the same token, you talk to a lot of people and they do bring up the names of ElBaradei and Moussa as people they would like to see as candidates.
So what I think we have to look for is: what’s going to happen with the government. That’s the million dollar question.
Obviously appointing the former head of intelligence as the vice president was not well received. Unless Mubarak appoints someone like ElBaradei or Moussa to head up the government or as vice president and then resigns so that person can effectively become head of a transitional government, I think that these demonstrations will continue until they force the government to fall.
People are coming out because they feel like unless Mubarak steps down, the bloodshed will continue, the looting will continue, the criminality will continue.
You have to understand this is a place where there was almost no crime. For instance, rape is punishable by death. You could walk on the street at 3 or 4 a.m. and no one would touch you. So people have this feeling of safety all the time here – unlike what you would find almost anywhere else in the world. And now it’s the total opposite of that.
So for people to be subjected to the kind of criminality we saw over the weekend – is completely foreign. It’s a different place. It’s like it lost its innocence.
How do Egyptians see ElBaradei? As an outsider or do they revere him?
A lot of Egyptians do see him as an outsider. He did two things wrong in Egyptian’s eyes when he recently ran for president.
When he had the chance to explain his platform, he never really did. He said he didn’t really have a plan of action, he didn’t really have a five-year-plan. He said he was coming to listen – and that wasn’t enough for people, they wanted something concrete. That was just before he returned to Egypt. Then when he did come to Egypt, he left right away and didn’t come back until just now.
I think a lot of Egyptians are wondering, why was he absent so long? Why did he just come back now? Is he being an opportunist? So he really needs to prove himself to people.
Of course, they are immensely proud of him because he is a Nobel laureate, he was head of the IAEA, he stood up to the United States. So he has a lot of credentials, but he does have prove himself as a patriot.
I think he’ll hang on until the bitter end. If he were not going to hang on, one would think he would seen the writing on the wall and have left by now out of concern for the country.
But it’s difficult to say. He’s obviously out of touch. He’s obviously concerned about the stability of the country. And I think in his mind, stability means having a tight grip on things.
By Charlene Gubash, NBC News Producer
Christophe Ena / AP
Protesters chant slogans against President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunis, on Friday.
CAIRO – Four months of rioting brought down one of the most authoritarian leaders in the Arab world, Tunisian President Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali, Friday. And many – from Arab analysts to average citizens – believe this may mark a turning point in the Arab World.
After two decades of unaccountable leadership, Tunisians suffered from an increasingly unbearable degree of poverty, unemployment, widespread corruption and injustice at the hands of the powerful state security. On Friday they showed the world they’d had enough. But, unfortunately, their plight is a common one shared by the majority of citizens across the Arab world.
Many in the region stayed glued to satellite channels Friday watching as Tunisian riot police beat and kicked demonstrators and shot tear gas canisters into crowds. They watched as injured demonstrators were carried away by their colleagues, as the prime minister announced that Ben Ali was no longer in power, and as anchors tried to determine exactly where Ben Ali had fled.
And many viewers outside Tunisia pondered what lessons their leaders took away.
“I think it has made governments around the region aware that uprising and revolution can happen in the world. It is a wake-up call for some. Definitely after what happened in Tunisia, things will not be the same as before,” Gamal Abdel Gawad, senior analyst at the al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. “There are many similar countries among non-oil producers, with a lack of democracy and a lack of civil institutions. After Tunisia, perhaps, we will be seeing a different Arab world on the side of the government and people.”
Gawad pointed out that the coverage of the government’s overthrow was unprecedented.
“The last time this happened was in 1985 when the Sudanese overthrew Numeiri and then there was no satellite TV. This is the first upheaval of that sort watched around the clock instantly by everybody in the region, and its impact will be felt.”
A Cairo University political science professor, Dr. Horeya Megahed, agreed. “This might give a lesson to other governments. They might absorb the problems of the people and respond to them.”
However, Hani Sabah, an Egyptian technician, could not imagine a similar reaction in his own country.
“The oppression the Tunisians faced was so much pressure that it made them explode and do what they did. They suffered from unemployment and high prices,” said Sabah. “But it would be hard for that to happen here with the president and his gang around him…The government’s attitude is: say whatever you want and we will do whatever we want.”
Sabah doesn’t anticipate a people's rebellion in Egypt. “Everybody wants to change the system, but the government right now is completely protected … They will shoot at [protesters] with live ammunition. If they are planning to overthrow the government, they will finish them off.”
Aly Ibrahim, a Cairo plumber, was glued to the TV on Friday and surfed channels to catch the latest developments.
“The Egyptian news broadcast only a fraction of the story for fear people might get the message. Be sure that so many other countries will get the message and will say, ‘These people managed to do that.’ … The message people got is, ‘Enough is enough!’ They see prices rising, problems in society, and nobody is moving a finger.”
CAIRO, Egypt – As Ramadan kicked off around the Muslim world, Egypt’s faithful got a small break from the rigors of fasting and religious devotion.
The Council of Ministers, a secular body of government ministers, turned back the clock an hour, allowing people to catch an hour more of well-needed sleep and to break their day-long fast a little earlier.
Men break their fast with food given as charity, on the first day of Ramadan in Cairo, Wednesday.
During the holiest month in the Islamic calendar, Muslims refrain from drinking, eating, smoking and sex from dawn to dusk.
For roughly one billion Muslims worldwide, the religious obligation is not only a time of physical deprivation but a cherished month of reflection, prayer, family togetherness and commiseration with those who are in need. In Egypt, many people use spare moments to reread the Quran, the Muslim holy book, in the metro, waiting in doctor's offices or on their lunch breaks.
But the physical demands of a summer time fast are daunting. In the sweltering Cairo summer, where temperatures often top 100 degrees Fahrenheit, an hour respite from the sun is welcome.
“It is a good thing,” said Shehata Abdel Ghani, as he leaned on his cane. As the guardian of a mosque, Abdel Ghani spends the entire day outside.
“It makes my day shorter,” he smiled.
With about 13 hours of daylight during Cairo’s summer, sunset – when the faithful can enjoy their first food and drink of the day – can seem like a long way off.
Although Mohamed Mohsen Ali fixes computers in air conditioned comfort for a living, he still enjoyed breaking the fast an hour earlier than normal.
“It is better; the sunset is now at 6:30 p.m. instead of 7:30 p.m. The day would be really long otherwise,” said Ali, who assumed the time change ought to be sanctioned by religious authorities.
“They need to seek the approval of Al Azhar [the most influential Sunni institute in the world] before taking a decision like that,” he said.
“Nobody could have taken responsibility for that on their own,” he added.
‘A bad thing’
But others worried that the temporal sleight of hand might not have been religiously sanctioned.
“I don’t know what they are playing at,” said Dina Riad, a fitness instructor. “To make it easy for people? To save electricity? I think it is a bad thing … I don’t know if Islamic people approved it or not. I don’t know who came up with this idea, but I don’t like it. The Prophet Mohammed did not say we have to change the hours. I think we are the only country in the world to do this!”
In fact, they weren’t the only country in the world to do so, authorities in the West Bank and Gaza also moved the clock back an hour.
But the time change didn’t help Gamal Abdul Nassar much. He couldn’t find a ride home because city buses had stopped an hour earlier.
“It has turned everything upside down. We use that hour to do our shopping, and now the buses stop early. Why did they change it? To save an hour?” asked Nassar.
“We get up with the sun, not the clock. Haven’t they heard of a biological clock? It is an entirely failed project without any redeeming value,” he said.
Nevertheless, Nassar’s biological clock is going to have an uphill battle. When Ramadan ends, Egyptians must turn the clock forward again, for two short weeks, before turning it back again in time for autumn.