Skip to main content

From simmer to boil: Pivotal moments in Egyptian uprising

By the CNN Staff
  • Mubarak stubbornly clings to presidency, refusing to step down
  • Crowds in Tahrir Square grow angry, chant: "Get out! Get out!"
  • Revolution that began 17 days ago continues

(CNN) -- The protesters first took to the streets of Egypt on January 25.

Inspired by a revolt in Tunisia and a page on Facebook, they demanded presidential term limits, a higher minimum wage, government reform and an end to police brutality.

They also called for the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.

The nation's young people have known only one leader in their lives. By late Thursday, they had hoped to hear an end to Mubarak's 30-year autocratic rule. Instead, they heard Mubarak stubbornly hold on to the presidency.

Tens of thousands of angry people erupted in chants of "Get out! Get out!" in Cairo's Tahrir Square as Mubarak addressed the nation in his first live speech since 2003. The uprising would continue.

"Mubarak, game over!" one protester shouted.

The drama that has been unfolding in recent weeks had been simmering for some time.

A Facebook page called "We Are All Khaled Said" -- named after a 28-year-old Egyptian businessman from Alexandria who was beaten to death by police in June -- sprung up, calling for protests on January 25.

Word spread on the streets of Cairo that there would be demonstrations. No one knew exactly what to expect.

As many as 20,000 protesters spilled into the streets in an unprecedented display of anti-government rage that first day. At one point, cheering protesters in the world's largest Arab nation broke through riot police who had lined Tahrir, or Liberation, Square. People scaled gates. Police lobbed tear gas and used water cannons.

Protesters remained unbowed. In fact, they became more galvanized. Even as the internet, text messages and phone services were shut down by the government in the days ahead, the people refused to be silenced -- although many were: Human Rights Watch estimated that more than 300 people have been killed since the protests began.

And the man behind the Facebook page, Wael Ghonim, would emerge as a national inspiration after he was detained by authorities three days after the protests began.

"I want to say to every mother and every father that lost his child, I am sorry, but this is not our fault," Ghonim said in a tearful message after his release this week. "I swear to God, this is not our fault. It is the fault of everyone who is holding on to power."

Mubarak: I am not leaving Egypt
Protesters: Mubarak's move not enough
Jubilant crowd packs Tahrir Square
Understanding Mubarak

On the same day Ghonim was taken into custody -- Friday, January 28 -- tens of thousands of demonstrators battled police in what became known as "The Day of Rage." The headquarters of Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party were set ablaze, a sign that the president's regime was facing something much greater than simple street protests.

This time, Egyptian troops moved onto the streets and lobbed tear gas, the first time the army had been used to put down domestic unrest.

Mubarak had yet to speak since the protests began. Shortly after midnight, in the early hours of January 29, Mubarak announced that he had sacked his Cabinet and that he understood the "legitimate demand" for more job opportunities and lower prices on goods.

"I know all these things ... that the people are asking about," he said in a taped speech. "I've never been separated from it, and I work for it every day."

"We have to be careful of anything that would allow chaos," Mubarak added.

He gave no indication of any plans to step aside. Omar Suleiman, a former head of intelligence, was appointed vice president.

Violent clashes continued throughout the day. Residents, fearing the spread of violence, set up impromptu neighborhood watches, guarding neighborhoods with machetes, meat cleavers and axes -- basically anything to ward off looters.

In Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama convened a meeting of his national security team. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the "Egyptian government needs to engage immediately with the Egyptian people."

Jordan and Yemen took steps for government reform in an effort to prevent similar unrest.

Egyptian opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel laureate who arrived in Cairo as the protests intensified, pressed for Mubarak's resignation.

"Leave today and save the country," he said of Mubarak to the crowd in Tahrir Square.

As the protests continued, essential supplies like gas and food began running low. Banks shut down, and long lines snaked outside groceries for bread.

On February 1, Mubarak announced that he would not seek a new term in September's elections.

"I will pursue the transfer of power in a way that will fulfill the people's demands, and that this new government will fulfill the people's demands and their hopes for political, economic and social progress," he said.

In Tahrir Square, the chants simply got louder: "Down with Mubarak!"

Protesters promised they would not relent until Mubarak quit.

The next day, February 2, violent clashes erupted between Mubarak supporters and opposition protesters. Anti-government demonstrators hunkered down. Supporters of Mubarak's pressed back, using tear gas and throwing rocks and other debris.

At one point, dozens of men riding horses and camels charged into the crowd in Tahrir Square, beating anti-Mubarak demonstrators.

Journalists became the focus of some attacks. Many were rounded up and jailed; others were stabbed or intimidated.

"I actually blame certain friendly nations who have television channels," said Suleiman, the new vice president. "They are not friendly at all, who have intensified the youth against the nation and the state."

As clashes continued, Mubarak told ABC's Christiane Amanpour on February 3 that he would like to step down but that he thought it would plunge the nation further into chaos.

"I don't care what people say about me," Mubarak said. "Right now, I care about my country. I care about Egypt."

By last weekend, a type of normalcy seemed to be taking root.

But then came Monday's release of Ghonim, who said he worked in his spare time to organize the grass-roots protests that began January 25.

"We must bring down this political system that we have," he told Egypt's Dream TV.

He said he had been kidnapped at night while trying to catch a taxi and held in solitary confinement for 10 days.

"All of a sudden, four people surrounded me. They were kidnapping me. I yelled, 'Help!' "

He told CNN's Ivan Watson he had been targeted by the secret police for planning the revolution. He said he was overwhelmed by the joyous support he received from fellow Egyptians upon his release. He said both Mubarak and his new vice president must resign.

"I'm telling this to Omar Suleiman," Ghonim said. "He is going to watch this. You are not going to stop us. Kidnap me. Kidnap all my colleagues. Put us in jail. Kill us. Do whatever you want to do. We are getting our country back. You guys have been ruining this country for 30 years. Enough!"

Part of complete coverage on
'Sons of Mubarak' in plea for respect
Pro-Mubarak supporters believe Egypt's former president is innocent of charges of corruption and killing protesters.
Timeline of the conflict in Libya
Fighting in Libya started with anti-government demonstrations in February and escalated into a nationwide civil war.
Who are these rebels?
After months of seeming stalemate, Libyan rebels declared they were moving in on Tripoli. But who are they?
Why NATO's Libya mission has shifted
Six months and more than 17,000 air sorties after it began, NATO's Operation Unified Protector in the skies over Libya grinds on.
Interactive map: Arab unrest
Click on countries in CNN's interactive map to see the roots of their unrest and where things stand today.
Send your videos, stories
Are you in the Middle East or North Africa? Send iReport your images. Don't do anything that could put you at risk.
Libya through Gadhafi's keyhole
Behind the official smiles for the cameras some people in Libya's capital are waiting for the rebels, reports CNN's Ivan Watson.
How Arab youth found its voice
Tunisia's Mohamed Bouazizi not only ignited a series of revolts but heralded the first appearance of Arab youth on the stage of modern history.