28 Jan 2011 – CAIRO – Chaos engulfed Egypt Friday as protesters seized the streets of the capital, battling police with stones and firebombs, burning down the ruling party headquarters, and defying a night curfew enforced by a military deployment. It was the peak of unrest posing the most dire threat to President Hosni Mubarak in his three decades of authoritarian rule.
The government’s attempts to suppress demonstrations appeared to be swiftly eroding support from the U.S. — suddenly forced to choose between its most important Arab ally and a democratic uprising demanding his ouster. Washington threatened to reduce a $1.5 billion program of foreign aid if Mubarak escalated the use of force.
The protesters were sure to be emboldened by their success in bringing tens of thousands to the streets in defiance of a ban, a large police force, countless canisters of tear gas, and even a nighttime curfew enforced by the first military deployment of the crisis.
Flames rose in cities across Egypt as police cars burned and protesters set the ruling party headquarters in Cairo ablaze. Hundreds of young men tore televisions, fans and stereo equipment from other buildings of the National Democratic Party neighboring the Egyptian Museum, home of King Tutankhamun’s treasures and one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions.
Young men could be seen forming a human barricade in front of the museum to protect it.
Others around the city looted banks, smashed cars, tore down street signs and pelted armored riot police vehicles with paving stones torn from roadways.
“We are the ones who will bring change,” said 21-year-old Ahmed Sharif. “If we do nothing, things will get worse. Change must come!” he screamed through a surgical mask he wore to ward off the tear gas.