Thousands of Egyptians took to the streets on Tuesday in what were reportedly the largest demonstrations in years, and which they explicitly tied to the successful uprising in nearby Tunisia.
Al Jazeera reports that on Tuesday night, hours after the countrywide protests began, the interior ministry issued a statement blaming the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s technically banned but largest opposition party, for fomenting the unrest.
Inspired by events in Tunisia, thousands of protesters gathered in Cairo and elsewhere, calling for reforms and demanding an end to the presidency of Hosni Mubarak, which has now lasted for nearly three decades.
Some protesters in downtown Cairo hurled rocks and climbed atop an armoured police truck.
“Down with Hosni Mubarak, down with the tyrant,” chanted the crowds. “We don’t want you!” they screamed.
Police responded to the demonstrators with blasts from a water cannon and rubber bullets, and set upon crowds with batons and acrid clouds of tear gas.
Protests also broke out in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, the Nile Delta cities of Mansura and Tanta and in the southern cities of Aswan and Assiut, witnesses reported.
The Egyptian government had earlier warned protesters.
“The security apparatus will deal firmly and decisively with any attempt to break the law,” the government’s director for security in the capital Cairo said in a statement released ahead of the protests.
Since Egypt bans demonstrations without prior permission, opposition groups say they have been denied such permits, any protesters may be detained.
Habib el-Adli, the interior minister, had earlier issued orders to “arrest any persons expressing their views illegally”.
According to Al Jazeera, the rallies had been promoted online by groups saying they speak for young Egyptians frustrated by the kind of poverty and oppression which triggered the overthrow of Tunisia’s president.
“Our protest on the 25th is the beginning of the end,” wrote organisers of a Facebook group with 87,000 followers.
“People are fed up of Mubarak and of his dictatorship and of his torture chambers and of his failed economic policies. If Mubarak is not overthrown tomorrow then it will be the day after. If its not the day after its going to be next week.”
The demonstrations prompted US secretary of state Hillary Clinton to assert during a press conference that “Egypt’s government is stable.”