Egyptian police reappear alongside army as Mubarak protests enter 7th day
Monday, January 31, 2011; 10:41 AM
CAIRO - Uniformed Egyptian police were back on the streets of this capital city Monday after disappearing over the weekend, as thousands of pro-democracy protesters showed no sign of obeying a midafternoon government-imposed curfew.
The police, who are widely detested here, have been blamed for triggering an almost complete breakdown of law and order in recent days across Egypt, a strategically vital nation at the heart of the Arab world. But with a measure of calm returning to the city Monday, many residents appeared pleased to have officers back on the job.
Still, it was unclear whether the calm would last, as thousands of protesters continued for a seventh day to call for President Hosni Mubarak's resignation.
Police officers, some brandishing rifles, took up positions in key intersections and along main thoroughfares. Security forces detained staff from Al Jazeera's English-language channel, and shut down the station's operations in Cairo.
The government ordered everyone off the street by 3 p.m. But as that hour came and went, the demonstrators continued to gather throughout the city and at the demonstration's epicenter, Tahrir Square. Protest organizers called for a general strike and much larger demonstrations on Tuesday.
The police tried and failed to put down pro-democracy demonstrations last week, and the army was mobilized Friday night. Since then, the army has not interfered with the protests and has not enforced the curfews.
That could change, however, with police back in the picture. State television announced on Monday afternoon that the Interior minister, who has control of the force, had been replaced.
Soldiers manned a cordon around Tahrir Square, and were turning back plainclothed police officers who attempted to enter. A military helicopter flew tight circles overhead.
Elsewhere in Cairo, there were long lines at gas stations and bakeries as residents coped with a shortage of bread and fuel. Egypt has been in a state of near-total crisis since last week, and that has disrupted supply lines. Many stores were shuttered across the city, with shopkeepers afraid to open for fear of falling victim to looters.
The U.S. Embassy began evacuating American citizens living in Egypt, diplomatic families and nonessential embassy personnel. Cairo's airport was in chaos. American college students on semester-abroad programs were among those trying to flee the country.
On Sunday, the military moved on multiple fronts to display its strength and consolidate support as factions within the government and on the street vied for control. The military sent conflicting signals about where its loyalties lie. On the streets, soldiers curried favor with demonstrators. But F-16 fighter jets streaked through the sky, and in images on state-run television, the nation's military brass appeared alongside the embattled president.
All across Egypt, troops in tanks fanned out to work with residents in chasing down marauding bands of knife-wielding thugs and to impose some semblance of order after the nearly complete disappearance of uniformed police.