Egypt: update

There appears to be a critical moment approaching in Alexandria, where the revolutionaries have been camping around the Northern Military District HQ since Mubarak’s speech last night. A huge crowd has formed at the president’s residence in the city and at the naval base, where naval personnel have been reported to be passing out food and drink to the protestors. (This has also now been reported in Cairo.) However, the palace gates and the approach along the beach are guarded by a group of tanks. There have been some parleys between the crowd and senior naval officers using a loudspeaker truck. The tank guns are trained towards the crowd, but elevated as if to engage a distant target, rather than depressed to fire at point blank. (Now that’s what I call a mixed message.) In the last few minutes a file of what appear to be either sailors, marines, or perhaps police marched out of the gates.

Across Egypt, the mobilisation has been bigger than ever today. Large crowds have moved onto the TV centre, where they have blockaded all access. However, a skeleton staff was apparently left on site last night, and they continue broadcasting. Elsewhere in Egypt, some local affiliate TV stations have been forced off the air. In another move in the TV wars, a new TV channel has appeared calling itself Tahrir – the Revolutionary Youth Channel, operating ironically over a transponder on Nilesat channel 10949.

Another huge demonstration has set up camp outside the presidential palace in Heliopolis. Senior army officers were reported to be parleying with groups of demonstrators there. And, apparently, the protestors are very chic. Al-Jazeera just reported the arrival of a large group of bikers, so this may depend on your tastes. Meanwhile, it’s been repeatedly rumoured that Mubarak is already off, at least as far as Sharm el-Sheikh.

In an index of how the revolution is progressing, an imam in Tahrir Square this morning preached that the “state of Ahmed Ezz” would be lifted as well as the state of emergency. Ahmed Ezz is the man who held a monopoly of steel distribution in Mubarak’s regime and became a fabulously rich symbol of, as they say, power, corruption, and lies. He was a minister until very recently when the government suddenly discovered his corruption, and was threatened with criminal charges during last night’s surreal telethon.

At the same time, part of the demonstration outside the TV centre now consists of strikers from an arms factory in Helwan, according to Hossam el-Haramawy.

However, this is surely one of the only times in history that a revolutionary mob has welcomed the presence of paratroopers.

An “important statement” is expected from “the presidency” at any moment, but after past experiences, you wouldn’t hold your breath. It may be significant that the message is going to come from the presidency rather than the president, or it may not.

Update: Al-Jazeera is reporting that the presidential plane has been sighted in Sharm el-Sheikh, and that state TV has announced that he has left Cairo, bizarrely quoting “foreign news agencies” (which of course they are not meant to be allowed to use, according to last night’s statement!).