Image: Foreigners and Egyptians in Cairo's airport wait to leave protest-ridden Egypt.
Khaled el Fiqi  /  EPA
Foreigners and Egyptians in Cairo's airport wait to leave protest-ridden Egypt.
NBC News and news services

Thousands of Americans and other foreigners scrambled Monday to flee unrest in Egypt, sending Cairo's crammed international airport into a scene of confusion.

The State Department said more than 2,600 Americans had contacted U.S. officials seeking government-chartered evacuation flights from Egypt, and more than 220 had already left.

Live updates on the crisis in Egypt

Passengers' nerves frayed, shouting matches erupted and some travelers even had a fistfight as thousands crammed inside Cairo airport's new Terminal 3. In an attempt to reduce tensions, the airport's departures board stopped announcing flight times — but the move simply fueled anger over canceled or delayed flights.

Making matters worse, check-in counters were poorly staffed because many EgyptAir employees had been unable to get to work due to a 3 p.m.-to-8 a.m. curfew and traffic breakdowns across the Egyptian capital.

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"It's an absolute zoo, what a mess," said Justine Khanzadian, 23, a graduate student from the American University of Cairo who was among those waiting at the airport for hours to leave Egypt. "I decided to leave because of the protests, the government here is just not stable enough to stay."

Food was scarce at the airport, with people buying up chocolate in the duty free shop. Airport staff shouted at travelers to get in line, but many were in no mood to listen. The scheduling board listed flight numbers without destinations or times of departure.

Occasionally, an official emerged and shouted out the destination of a departing flight, triggering a rush of passengers with boarding passes. The process worked smoothly for nationals of countries that had sent planes — Denmark, Germany, China, Canada — others had no such support.

By curfew time, some people who had apparently failed to get on a flight out of Egypt had boarded buses for the ride back into Cairo.

A U.S. military plane landed at Larnaca Airport in Cyprus on Monday afternoon ferrying 42 U.S. Embassy officials and their dependents from Egypt.

Officials told NBC News that the plane went to Egypt to drop off up to a dozen Marines to augment the U.S. Embassy security force. Rather than return empty, military officials allowed about 70 board for the flight out.

James Ellickson-Brown from the U.S. Embassy in Nicosia said at least one more plane was expected Monday with about 180 people — most of them U.S. citizens.

The U.S. government evacuated about 1,200 American citizens from Egypt on nine flights Monday and at least six more flights are planned for Tuesday, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.

Crowley said two flights were due to leave Cairo soon, bringing the total number of flights carrying Americans to nine. He said 2,600 people had contacted the U.S. Embassy seeking help getting out of Egypt.

EgyptAir resumed its flights Monday morning after a roughly 14-hour break because of the curfew and its inability to field enough crew. Over 20 hours, only 26 of about 126 EgyptAir flights operated, airport officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

The officials said many countries were working to evacuate their citizens, with Turkey sending four flights, Israel and Russia sending two planes each and the Czech Republic one. They said those additional flights had helped ease the airport's swelling and restless crowds, but those gains were likely to be short-lived as other foreigners and Egyptians poured in.

Greek oil worker Markos Loukogiannakis, who arrived in Athens on a flight carrying 181 passengers including 65 U.S. citizens, said confusion reigned at Cairo airport and travelers had to negotiate a string of checkpoints just to get there.

"In a 22-kilometer (14-mile) route from our suburb to the airport we had to get through 19 checkpoints, including nine manned by civilians," he said. "There were lots of people gathering at the airport and it was very difficult to get in."

He said security had deteriorated sharply over the past three days in Cairo after police withdrew from the streets.

"There was a wave of attacks by criminal elements who engaged in burglaries and wrecked shops and banks. There was a lot of shooting and residents took up the burden of protecting their property," he said.

Jane Travis, an American tourist from Pine Grove, Pennsylvania, who was evacuated to Athens, said she and her husband heard shooting from their hotel.

"We are very concerned that there was no warning from our State Department before we came on this trip," she said. "From our hotel, which was well guarded, we heard the gunshots and it was very terrifying."

Wendy Jonas told the Telegraph newspaper of London said that her mother, Lesely Styan, 60, from Crawley, West Sussex, and four friends were among those stuck in Cairo.

"She spent Saturday night sleeping under an escalator and they are just panicked and crying all the time," Jonas said. "Mum told me the toilets are an absolute nightmare and the airport ran out of food on the land side. There has been violence outside and we are worried looters will make their way to the airport."

Americans Valerie Doescher and Nelson Clark arrived in Istanbul on Monday aboard a regularly scheduled Turkish Airlines flight and were relieved to be out of Egypt.

Doescher said she left after protests near the building where she was interning "grew in a completely exponential way." Clark said his three-hour drive brought him to an airport that "was a nightmare."

In a geopolitical shift, even Iraq decided it would evacuate its citizens, sending three planes to Egypt — including the prime minister's plane — to bring home for free those who wish to return. Thousands of Iraqis had once fled to Egypt to escape the violence in their own country.

About 800 Iraqis had left Cairo by Monday afternoon, said Capt. Mohammed al-Moussawi, a crew member for the prime minister's office. He said the flights would continue until all those who wished to return had done so.

Hundreds of Indian nationals were evacuated, with 316 arriving Monday in Mumbai on board a special Air India flight and another 275 expected to reach Mumbai later in the day.

Video: Egyptian army called on to quell protests

An Azerbaijan flight carrying 103 people and the body of an Azeri Embassy accountant killed in the unrest arrived in Baku, and Turkey sent five planes to Cairo and Alexandria, evacuating 1,548 Turkish nationals.

Indonesia was sending a plane to Cairo to start evacuating some 6,150 Indonesians — mostly students and workers — and SAS Denmark was flying home some 60 Danes.

China sent four planes to help pick up an estimated 500 Chinese stranded in Cairo and warned citizens not travel to Egypt.

That echoed earlier warnings from Britain, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark and the Czech Republic, which all advised against all nonessential travel to Egypt. Many European tour companies canceled trips to Egypt until Feb. 23, while others left the cancellations open until further notice.

Air Partner, which brokers charter aircraft, said it was working round the clock to help companies ranging from oil firms to supermarkets and telecoms groups to get employees out.

"By the close of business today, we will have flown 800 people out of Egypt on 14 flights to a range of safe havens, including Dubai, the U.S. and Europe," it said in a statement.

Resorts calm
Tour operators say they will fly home all their customers this week when their holidays end, or on extra flights, stressing there has not been any unrest in Red Sea resort cities like Hurghada or Sharm el-Sheik. Still, food shortages were starting to be felt at some Egyptian resorts and some restaurants were refusing to serve foreigners.

All major German tour operators — among them TUI AG and Thomas Cook's German subsidiary — canceled day trips to Cairo and Luxor.

Germany, which sends about 1.2 million tourists to Egypt a year, was not officially evacuating its citizens. But Deutsche Lufthansa AG on Monday sent an additional flight at the request of the foreign ministry to bring more German tourists home. When it arrived back in Frankfurt on Monday night, the evacuees told of the chaos in Cairo.

Gunnar Gerring of Nordhorn in northern Germany said he witnessed shooting and looting in the last few days before turning up to chaos at the airport.

"We have an apartment in Cairo were we sat, barricaded ourselves and didn't do anything," Gerring said. "Now we are back home and everything is good."

Germany foreign ministry spokesman Dirk Augustin said thousands more Germans currently live in Egypt, with up to 7,000 around Cairo.

Britain's Foreign Office estimates there are around 30,000 U.K. tourists and long-term residents in Egypt, but it said Monday it has no plans to evacuate British citizens. Foreign Secretary William Hague has advised against all but essential travel to Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor and Suez and recommended that people currently in those cities leave on commercial flights when they can.

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British Prime Minister David Cameron's office said that most Britons, unlike tourists from the United States and other nations, are on vacation at beach resorts on the Red Sea.

German tour operator Rewe Touristik advised clients booked on a holiday in Egypt through Feb. 7 to cancel their trip and allowed them to switch to another destination without surcharge. The company has 3,100 clients in the country.

Many companies organized their own evacuations for their workers. German utility company RWE said its oil and gas subsidiary RWE Dea repatriated some 90 people — employees and their families — with a chartered plane that arrived in Hamburg on Monday.

The Danish company shipping company A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S chartered a plane to pick up relatives of its Danish employees in Egypt. The company said there were no terminal operations in Egypt on Monday and the Maersk Line, Safmarine and Damco offices were closed.

Air France canceled its daily flight from Paris to Cairo on Monday and planned to increase its capacity Tuesday by an extra 200 seats.

Portugal sent a C-130 military transport plane to evacuate its citizens. Greece was sending three C-130 military transport planes to Alexandria on Tuesday and Polish airline LOT was flying to Cairo.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Nerve-wracked Americans evacuate Egypt

Photos: Egypt unrest impacts travelers

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  1. Pyramids closed

    Tourists from Holland sit near the pyramids in Giza, Egypt, on Jan. 31, 2011. Authorities in Egypt closed the pyramids to tourists following protests in the nation's capital, Cairo. (Emilio Morenatti / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Chaos in the streets

    Tourists are directed by army soldiers on Jan. 31 in Cairo, Egypt. More than 100 people have been killed and up to 2,000 injured during clashes between police and protesters seeking to drive President Hosni Mubarak from power. (Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Tourists evacuated

    A tourist shows a photo she took of a tank on the streets of Cairo as she arrived at the airport in the southern German city of Munich on Jan. 30. Germany's foreign ministry advised its citizens to carefully consider whether a trip to Egypt is really necessary during the ongoing unrest. (Tobias Hase / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Crowded airports

    Travelers wait for a Turkish Airlines flight that was delayed for more than eight hours at Cairo International Airport on Jan. 31. Thousands of Americans and other foreigners scrambled to flee unrest in Egypt, sending Cairo's crammed international airport into a scene of confusion. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Leaving the country

    An unidentified tourist uses her computer Jan. 31 at Cairo's international airport. Shouting matches erupted and some travelers even had a fistfight as thousands crammed the airport and countries around the world scrambled to fly their citizens out of Egypt. (Victoria Hazou / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Vacations disrupted

    Tourists arrive Jan. 31 at Germany's Frankfurt airport from Egypt. Governments, airlines and tour operators worked together to fly their citizens out of Egypt amid continuing protests. The unrest comes at the height of Egypt's tourist season. (Alex Domanski / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Treasures damaged

    Egyptian special forces secure the main floor inside the Egyptian Museum on Jan. 31 in Cairo, Egypt. Would-be looters broke into Cairo's famed museum on Jan. 29, ripping the heads off two mummies and damaging some artifacts before being caught and detained by army soldiers, Egypt's antiquities chief Zahi Hawass said. (Tara Todras-Whitehill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Tourism hurting

    A tourists takes a picture of the famous Great Sphinx with a pyramid in the background in 2007 in Giza, on the outskirts of Cairo. The violence in Egypt is already hurting the country's tourism industry. (Cris Bouroncle / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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Explainer: Key players in Egyptian protests

  • Image: A senior army officer salutes a crowd of cheering protesters at Tahrir square in Cairo
    YANNIS BEHRAKIS  /  Reuters
    A senior army officer salutes a crowd of cheering protesters at Tahrir square in Cairo.

    Protesters stormed Cairo streets in a bid to drive Hosni Mubarak from power, even as the longtime president set the stage for a successor by naming his intelligence chief as his first-ever vice president.

    The following are key players in the unfolding crisis.

    Sources: The Associated Press, Reuters

  • Ex-president

    Image: Mubarak
    Khaled Desouki  /  AFP - Getty Images
    Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak

    Name: Hosni Mubarak

    Age: 82

    Role: Mubarak resigned as president and handed control to the military on Feb. 11, bowing down after a historic 18-day wave of pro-democracy demonstrations by hundreds of thousands. The former air force commander had ruled Egypt for 30 years as leader of the National Democratic Party.

    Background: Mubarak was thrust into office when Islamists gunned down his predecessor Anwar Sadat at a military parade in 1981. He has long promoted peace abroad and on the domestic front he has kept a tight lid on political opposition. He has resisted any significant political change even under pressure from the United States. The U.S. has poured billions of dollars of military and other aid into Egypt since it became the first Arab state to make peace with Israel, signing a treaty in 1979.

    Controversy: Mubarak won the first multicandidate presidential election in 2005 although the outcome was never in doubt and his main rival came in a distant second. Rights groups and observers said the election was marred by irregularities.

    Personal note: There have been questions about his health after surgery in Germany last March.

  • New VP

    Arno Burgi  /  EPA
    Omar Suleiman

    Name: Omar Suleiman
    Age: 74
    Role: The intelligence chief and Mubarak confidant became Egypt's first vice president in three decades on Jan. 29. The move clearly set up a succession that would hand power to Suleiman and keep control of Egypt in the hands of military men.
    Military man: He has been the director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Services since 1993, a part in which he has played a prominent public role in diplomacy, including in Egypt's relations with Israel and the United States. In 1992 he headed the General Operations Authority in the Armed Forces and then became the director of the military intelligence unit before taking over EGIS. Suleiman took part in the war in Yemen in 1962 and the 1967 and 1973 wars against Israel.
    Intel chief: Suleiman was in charge of the country's most important political security files, and was the mastermind behind the fragmentation of Islamist groups who led the uprising against the state in the 1990s.

  • New PM

    Image: Ahmed Shafiq
    Mohamed Abd El Ghany  /  Reuters
    Egypt's Civil Aviation Minister Ahmed Shafiq.

    Name: Ahmed Shafiq
    Age: 69
    Role: President Mubarak appointed Shafiq as prime minister on Jan. 29.
    Background: A close associate of Mubarak, Shafiq has been minister of civil aviation since 2002. As minister of civil aviation, Shafiq has won a reputation for efficiency and administrative competence. He has supervised a successful modernization program at the state airline, EgyptAir, and improvements to the country's airports.
    Former fighter pilot: Shafiq served as commander of the Egyptian air force between 1996 and 2002, a post Mubarak held before he became vice president of Egypt under former President Anwar Sadat.

  • Rival

    Mohamed ElBaradei
    John Macdougall  /  AFP - Getty Images
    Mohamed ElBaradei

    Name: Mohamed ElBaradei
    Age: 68
    Role: The Nobel Peace Prize winner joined demonstrators trying to oust Mubarak. ElBaradei has suggested he might run for president if democratic and constitutional change were implemented.
    Atomic watchdog: ElBaradei joined the International Atomic Energy Agency in 1984 and served as its director-general in 1997. He transformed the IAEA into a body bold enough to take a stand on political issues relating to peace and proliferation, despite critics' belief that it was not its place. In 2005, ElBaradei and the IAEA were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He retired in 2009.
    Law and diplomacy: He studied law, graduating from the University of Cairo and the New York University School of Law. He began his career in the Egyptian diplomatic service in 1964, working twice in the permanent missions of Egypt to the United Nations in New York and Geneva. He was in charge of political, legal and arms control issues. He was a special assistant to the Egyptian foreign minister and was a member of the team that negotiated the peace settlement with Israel at Camp David in 1978. He joined the United Nations two years later.
    On Iraq: ElBaradei was outspoken on the lack of evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, which angered the Bush administration.

  • On guard

    Image:
    Lefteris Pitarakis  /  AP
    Egyptian army soldiers in Tahrir square in Cairo.

    Name: Egyptian Armed Forces
    Role: The army remains the most powerful institution in the nation, and whatever it does next will determine the future of the Arab world's most populous country. The military appeared to be going to great lengths to calm the country without appearing opposed to  demonstrations. 
    Background: Egypt's 500,000-man army has long enjoyed the respect of citizens who perceive it as the country's least corrupt and most efficient public institution, particularly compared to a police force notorious for heavy handedness and corruption. It is touted as having defeated Israel in the 1973 Mideast War, and revered for that role.
    Stabilizer: The military, for its part, sees itself as the guarantor of national stability and above the political fray, loyal to both the government and what it sees as the interests of the general population. The military has given Egypt all of its four presidents since the monarchy was toppled in 1952.
    Provider:  Although it has almost completely withdrawn from politics since 1952, the army has added to its strength by venturing into economic activity, playing a growing role in such key service industries as food production and construction. It stepped in in 2008 during an acute shortage of bread, Egypt's main stable, which it provided from its own bakeries. It has since opened outlets for basic food items sold as vastly discounted prices.

  • The Brotherhood

    Image: Mohamed Badie
    Asmaa Waguih  /  Reuters
    Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie

    Name: Muslim Brotherhood
    Role: The brotherhood is Egypt's largest and most organized political opposition movement. Banned in 1954 on charges of using violence, members returned to Egypt to show support in protests.
    Background: The group said it has since denounced violence and expanded its international presence. It has participated in Egyptian elections as independents despite frequent crackdowns. It surprisingly won about 20 percent of the 454 seats in 2005 parliamentary elections and since then, authorities have jailed around 5,000 of its members. The group believes in Islamic rule.
    New audience: The Muslim Brotherhood is the focus of a TV series, "Al-Gamaa," or "The Group," which centers on a 2009 court case in which members were accused of setting up a student militia.

  • Mubarak's son

    Image: Gamal Mubarak
    Khaled El Fiqi  /  EPA
    Gamal Mubarak

    Name: Gamal Mubarak
    Age: 47
    Role: Served as secretary general of his father's National Democratic Party.
    Background: The younger Mubarak spent 11 years working at Bank of America in Cairo and London, had gained considerable influence in government after his father appointed him head of the ruling National Democratic Party's (NDP) policy committee in 2002. Many Egyptians felt Mubarak was grooming Gamal as his successor. Before Gamal rose to prominence, speculation was rife in the 1990s that Mubarak wanted Alaa, Gamal's younger brother, to succeed him.

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