Video: Violent demonstrations continue in Egypt

  1. Transcript of: Violent demonstrations continue in Egypt

    WILLIAMS: Good evening.

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Well, when you look at the live pictures, you can't help but say, ' Here we go again .' The revolution was supposed to be over. We went through this last winter. The people of Cairo flocking into Tahrir Square . The protest erupting into violence and bloodshed. Mubarak , remember, was forced out. The army was in charge until elections and a government could take over. And yet tonight, this is where we are. Violence and bloodshed in Cairo in a society that badly needs order and leadership. This is day four of this uprising, by the way. The death toll at least 30. At least 2,000 people injured. That number on the rise. And once again our chief foreign corespondent Richard Engel is there for us. Richard , good evening.

    RICHARD ENGEL reporting: Good evening, Brian . There are still tens of thousands of people tonight in this square trying for two revolutions in a single year. Today the Egyptian military did offer some concessions, but it wasn't enough. Protesters today carpeted Tahrir Square , dissent mixed with force. There were more clashes, some intense. The anger here is focused on one man, President Hosni Mubarak 's successor, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi . Protesters say he never implemented democracy as he promised. Today in Tahrir Square , they hanged his effigy. And now caught up in this second revolution are three American college students on a semester abroad. Egyptian television showed them, looking sheepish, in detention, accused of throwing Molotov cocktails at security forces. Back in the square, by 4 PM , hundreds of thousands packed in. This is the biggest demonstration since President Hosni Mubarak was toppled nearly one year ago. It's also the biggest challenge to the military which has dominated political life here for nearly six decades. These people were promised democracy, it wasn't delivered. Now they're determined to take it for themselves.

    Group of Protesters:

    ENGEL: But would toppling the Egyptian military be good for the United States ? The military is secular, it's US funded, it defends a peace treaty with Israel , and for decades it's been a peace broker in the Middle East .

    Unidentified Woman: The main role of the -- of the Egyptian of army is to protect the Egyptians. And so far -- and, I mean, to this day, to this point in time, it is actually attacking the public. It's attacking the Egyptians.

    Field Marshal HUSSEIN TANTAWI:

    ENGEL: In the evening, Tantawi gave a rare television address, but it as soon clear he wasn't stepping down. Instead, he said Egypt will form a new government and have early presidential elections. The reaction in Tahrir ...

    Unidentified Man:

    ENGEL: 'The field marshal is a traitor,' he said. And clashes resume, more intense than before. And, Brian , regarding those three American students, US Embassy officials here in Cairo have already been in contact with them.

    WILLIAMS: Richard Engel back again, Tahrir Square , in Cairo . Richard , thanks.

NBC News and news services
updated 11/22/2011 7:13:49 PM ET 2011-11-23T00:13:49

Egypt's military leader promised to speed the transition to civilian rule, saying Tuesday that presidential elections will be held by the end of June 2012. But the major concession was immediately rejected by tens of thousands of protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square, who responded with chants of "Leave, leave!" now.

Late Tuesday, tear gas was pouring into Tahrir Square but dissipated in about 10 minutes, according to tweeted reports by NBC's News' Richard Engel.

The protests continued hours after Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi vowed that landmark parliamentary elections will start on schedule on Monday, the first vote since longtime authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak was ousted in an uprising nine months ago. And he said the military was prepared to hold a referendum on immediately transferring power to a civilian authority if people demand it.

Tantawi said he has accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf's civilian government and politicians who attended a 5-hour crisis meeting with the ruling generals said the military intended to replace Sharaf's cabinet with a "national salvation" government. It was not clear who might head the new Cabinet, but names of a couple presidential hopefuls were mentioned.

"Our demands are clear," said Khaled El-Sayed, a protester from the Youth Revolution Coalition and a candidate in the upcoming parliamentary election. "We want the military council to step down and hand over authority to a national salvation government with full authority." He also demanded that the commander of the military police and the Interior Minister, who is in charge of the police, be tried for the "horrific crimes" of the past few days, when 29 people were killed in clashes, most of them in Cairo.

The standoff culminated four days of clashes and demonstrations around the country that have constituted the most sustained challenge so far to nine months of military rule. It plunges the country deeper into a crisis that may only hamper the democratic transition the protesters are fighting for.

Slideshow: Protests continue in Egypt (on this page)

In Tahrir Square, the atmosphere was reminiscent of the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak, with jubilation over the large turnout mixed with the seething anger directed at the military. On Tuesday, the protesters had called for a million people to turn out and drew a massive crowd of tens of thousands.

The crowds carried an open wooden coffin with a body of a slain protester wrapped in white and held a funeral in the middle of the square.

A stuffed military uniform was hung from a central light pole with a cardboard sign on its neck saying "Execute the field marshal," a reference to Tantawi, Mubarak's defense minister of 20 years. People cheered when the effigy was hung and state television showed some hitting it with sticks or shoes.

Men in the square opened a corridor in the middle of the crowds and formed a human chain to keep it open, giving easy access to motorcycles and ambulances ferrying the wounded to several field hospitals in the square.

Sweet smells of popcorn and cotton candy mingled with tear gas and burning garbage.

As night fell on the square, thousands streamed in over a bridge across the Nile river. Men and women carrying blankets and boxes of supplies chanted: "Down with the field marshal."

The latest round of unrest began Saturday when security forces violently evicted a few hundred protesters who camped out in Tahrir. The perceived use of excessive force angered activists, who began to flock to the square. A joint army and police attempt to clear the square on Sunday evening failed, leaving protesters more determined to dig in there.

The clashes played out amid charges that the military was trying to cling on to power after an elected parliament is seated and a new president elected. The military recently proposed that a "guardianship" role for itself be enshrined in the next constitution and that it would enjoy immunity from any civilian oversight.

Further confusing the political situation, the military-backed civilian government on Monday submitted a mass resignation in response to the turmoil.

In his brief televised address to the nation, Tantawi did not mention a specific date for the transfer of power, although the presidential election has long been considered the final step in the process. The military has previously floated the end of next year or early 2013 as the date for the presidential vote.

"The armed forces, represented by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, has no desire to rule and puts the country's interests above all. It is ready to hand over responsibility immediately and return to its original duty of defending the country if the people want that and through a public referendum if it is necessary," he said.

Tantawi sought to cast the military as the nation's foremost patriots and angrily denounced what he called attempts to taint its reputation.

But he hinted at conspiratorial plots behind the protests, much like Mubarak did in his final days.

He spoke of forces "who are working in the dark to incite sedition and drive a wedge between the people and the Armed Forces or between different segments of the Egyptian people."

"At the end we will hand over power to an elected civil authority," Tantawi said, but he did not offer to step down. The crowd in Tahrir Square responded with chants of, "the people want the fall of the Field Marshal."

The crowds in Tahrir immediately rejected Tantawi's proposals with chants of "erhal," or leave.

"We are not leaving, he leaves," chanted the protesters. "The people want to bring down the field marshal," they shouted.

A youth group that played a key role in the anti-Mubarak uprising said it decided to remain in the square until the military handed over power to a civilian presidential council to run the country's affairs. Beside a representative of the military, the council should include pro-reform leader and Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, said the April 6 group.

"The military council has failed to manage the transitional period, and the generals' hands are tainted by the blood of the nation's youth and have been collaborating with the counterrevolution," the group said in a statement.

Others in the square said the referendum was just a ploy to divide people.

American students arrested
Three American students at the American University of Cairo, which sits on Tahrir Square, were arrested outside the university's campus Monday night, Morgan Roth, a spokeswoman for the university, told NBC News.

She did not specify whether any charges had been filed or what any charges may be, but she named the three students as Luke Gates, an Indiana University student from Bloomington, Indiana; Gregory Porter, a Drexel University student from Glenside, Pennsylvania; and Derrik Sweeney, a Georgetown University student from Jefferson City, Missouri.

The three were on a study abroad program with the American University of Cairo.

They were being held at the Abdeen police station in Cairo, NBC reported.

Image: An Egyptian riot police officer fires tear gas during clashes with protesters near Tahrir square in Cairo
Khalil Hamra  /  AP
A riot police officer fires tear gas during clashes with protesters near Tahrir Square in Cairo on Tuesday.

Egyptian television said that they had been arrested after being seen throwing fire bombs from the roof of a building owned by the American University of Cairo, NBC News' Richard Engel reported.

George Gates, the father of a 21-year-old Luke Gates, also confirmed to NBC that his son had been arrested "sometime late last night," and said the family was in contact with the Department of State.

On what appears to be Luke Gates' Twitter feed, Gates lists his location as Cairo, Egypt and makes references to being in Tahrir Square.

His last post, dated Monday, November 21, read, "reports of tear gas being fired from AUC campus on Tahrir, university officials have started investigating."

An airport official also said a U.S. citizen who had been arrested while allegedly filming security forces at Tahrir Square was deported Tuesday to the United Arab Emirates from which he had arrived.

State television showed brief footage of the three students, males who appeared to be in their early 20s.

The new wave of protests and violence around the country that began on Saturday has left 29 dead and has thrown Egypt's politics into chaos less than a week before landmark parliamentary elections were to begin.

"The army is making the same mistake as Mubarak. They hear the demands but respond when it's too late," said protester Mustafa Abdel-Hamid, a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood who came to Tahrir even though his movement has not endorsed the protests over the past four days.

Battered economy
Egypt's military has been backed into a difficult corner. Protesters are demanding it surrender the reins of power — or at least set a firm date in the very near future for doing so soon. Without that, few civilian political leaders are likely to join a new government for fear of being tainted as facades for the generals, as many consider the current Cabinet.

The political uncertainty and prospect of continued violence dealt a punishing blow to an already battered economy.

Egypt's benchmark index plunged more than 5 percent, the third straight day of declines. Banks closed early and many workplaces sent employees home ahead of schedule for fear of a deterioration in security.

Several main roads were closed to traffic, adding to Cairo's already congested streets.

'Deplorable' violence
The United States, which gives Egypt's military $1.3 billion a year in aid, has called for restraint on all sides and urged Egypt to proceed with elections.

"We are deeply concerned about the violence. The violence is deplorable. We call on all sides to exercise restraint," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday.

Political uncertainty has gripped Egypt since Mubarak's fall, while sectarian clashes, labor unrest, gas pipeline sabotage and a gaping absence of tourists have paralyzed the economy and prompted a widespread yearning for stability.

Meanwhile, rights group Amnesty International accused Egypt's rulers on Tuesday of brutality sometimes exceeding that of Mubarak, saying the hopes of protesters had been "crushed."

The group said Egypt's Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) — which assumed control after an 18-day uprising toppled Mubarak in February — had made only empty promises to improve human rights.

In a report, Amnesty said military courts had tried thousands of civilians and emergency law had been extended. Torture had continued in army custody, and there were consistent reports of security forces employing armed "thugs" to attack protesters, it added.

"The SCAF has continued the tradition of repressive rule which the January 25 demonstrators fought so hard to get rid of," said Philip Luther, Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa acting director.

"Those who have challenged or criticize the military council — like demonstrators, journalists, bloggers, striking workers — have been ruthlessly suppressed in an attempt at silencing their voices ... The brutal and heavy-handed response to protests in the last few days bears all the hallmarks of the Mubarak era."

By August, Amnesty said the military council admitted about 12,000 civilians had been tried by military courts and at least 13 sentenced to death. The trials were "grossly unfair", said the rights group.

NBC News, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Photos: Protests continue in Egypt

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  1. People take part in Friday prayers in Cairo's Tahrir Square before a mass rally on Nov. 25. Thousands of Egyptians continue to occupy the square ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for Nov. 28. (Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Egyptian protesters pray during a march in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Nov. 25. Egypt's ruling military council appointed Kamal Ganzouri on Friday as prime minister to form "a national salvation government" to replace the cabinet that resigned earlier in the week. (Esam Omran Al-Fetori / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Supporters of the Egyptian Armed Forces shout slogans and wave Egyptian national flags on a road near the defence ministry, headquarters of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, at Abbasiya square in Cairo Nov. 25. More than 5,000 pro-army Egyptians rallied as Egypt's military rulers named a veteran politician as prime minister in an attempt to quell mass protests that have killed 41 people.

    Story: Egypt military woos public to keep power (Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Volunteers clean up garbage and rocks on Nov. 24 after clashes in Alexandria, Egypt. Protesters and police observed a truce after violence that killed 39 people in five days. (Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A riot policeman fires a gun, allegedly at protesters, during clashes on a side street near Tahrir Square. (Goran Tomasevic / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Wounded protesters are driven away to a makeshift hospital in Tahrir Square on Nov. 23. (Andre Pain / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. A protester wears a gas mask, goggles and a pail to protect himself from tear gas canisters lobbed by riot police during clashes near Tahrir Square on Nov. 23. (Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. An Egyptian soldier tries to keep thousands of protesters away from riot policemen during a demonstration in Tahrir Square during the fourth day of clashes with security forces on Nov. 22. Demonstrators are demanding an end to military rule, heightening tension after days of deadly clashes that threaten to derail next week's legislative polls. (Khaled Desouki / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Egypt's Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, longtime defence minister who is now the country's de facto ruler, addresses the nation in a televised speech in Cairo on Nov. 22. The head of Egypt's ruling military council accepted the cabinet's resignation and said the military was ready to hold a referendum for immediate transfer of power. (Egyptian state TV / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A protester displays empty tear gas canisters as others chant slogans during clashes with riot police in Cairo on Nov. 22. (Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Protesters carry a wounded comrade to a nearby hospital on a motorcycle during a demonstration by tens of thousands of Egyptians in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Nov. 22. (Khaled Desouki / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Protesters pack Cairo's Tahrir Square on Nov. 22 as clashes between police and protesters demanding democratic change entered a fourth day. (Khaled Desouki / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Protesters take shelter behind a wall during clashes with riot police on a side street near Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, on Tuesday, Nov. 22. Egyptians frustrated with military rule battled police in the streets as the generals scrambled to cope with the cabinet's proffered resignation after bloodshed that has jolted plans for the country's first free election in decades. (Goran Tomasevic / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Riot police stand behind flames from molotov cocktails during clashes with protesters on a side street near Tahrir Square on Nov. 22. (Goran Tomasevic / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. An ambulance makes its way through thousands of protesters as they attend a funeral of a victim of earlier clashes in Tahrir Square on Nov. 22. (Khaled Desouki / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. A riot police officer fires tear gas during clashes with protesters near Tahrir Square on Nov. 22. (Khalil Hamra / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A protester throws a tear gas canister, which was earlier thrown by riot police during clashes along a road which leads to the Interior Ministry, near Tahrir Square on Nov. 22. (Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Protesters carry a wounded man during clashes with riot police near Tahrir Square on Nov. 22. (Khalil Hamra / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. People carry the body of a protester who was killed in clashes with the riot police during his funeral in Tahrir Square on Nov. 22. (Khalil Hamra / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Protesters clash with riot police in Alexandria on Nov. 21. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Protesters stand in line to protect the field hospital in Tahrir Square, Cairo, on Nov. 21. (Mohamed Hossam / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Protesters run from tear gas fired by riot police during clashes in Tahrir Square on Nov. 21. (Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. An injured protester is helped away during clashes with security forces in Tahrir Square on Nov. 21. (Khaled Desouki / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Protesters throw stones at riot police firing tear gas and rubber bullets near Tahrir Square on Nov 21. (Goran Tomasevic / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. A protester winces after being exposed to tear gas during clashes near Tahrir Square in Cairo on Nov. 21. (Asmaa Waguih / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. A riot policeman aims a shotgun with rubber bullets at protesters, next to a plainclothes policeman during clashes in Cairo on Nov. 21. (Goran Tomasevic / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Protesters carry a man injured during clashes with riot police in Cairo on Nov. 21. (Goran Tomasevic / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. A protester stands on top of a burned car in a Cairo street on Nov. 21. (Khalil Hamra / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. An Egyptian protester hurls a tear gas canister back at security forces as others run for cover on the third day of clashes at Tahrir Square in Cairo on Nov. 21. (Mohammed Hossam / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Two Egyptian protesters help a man overcome with tear gas during clashes in Tahrir square, in Cairo, Egypt, on Nov. 21. (Mohammed Abu Zaid / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. An Egyptian protester sprays water on the eyes of a fellow demonstrator after tear gas was fired by security forces in Tahrir Square on Nov. 21. (Mohammed Hossam / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Canadian volunteer nurse, Merikel, right, helps an Egyptian medical team treat an injured protester at a field hospital at Tahrir Square in Cairo on Nov. 21. (Amr Nabil / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. A protester climbs a burned building to rescue residents trapped by fire during clashes with police in Cairo on Nov. 21. (Goran Tomasevic / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. An Egyptian protester shouts during clashes with security forces at Tahrir Square in Cairo on Nov. 21. (Mohammed Hossam / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Firemen try to put out a fire started by protesters during clashes with police in front of the Security Administrative building in Alexandria, Egypt, on Sunday, Nov. 20. (Stringer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. A protester overcome by tear gas kneels in the middle of the street during clashes with Egyptian riot police near the interior ministry downtown Cairo, Egypt, on Nov. 20. (Tara Todras-whitehill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Egyptians protesters are pushed away by security forces during clashes in Cairo on Nov. 20. (Khaled Elfiqi / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Protesters run from riot police spraying tear gas, during clashes near Tahrir Square in Cairo on Nov. 20. (Asmaa Waguih / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. A protester receives medical treatment at a field hospital after being wounded in clashes with Egyptian riot police in Cairo on Nov. 20. (Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Egyptian protesters are confronted by riot police firing rubber bullets and tear gas in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Nov. 19. (Khaled Desouki / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Egyptian riot police clash with protesters in Tahrir Square in Cairo on Nov. 19, as Egyptian riot police dismantled a small tent city set up to commemorate revolutionary martyrs in Cairo's Tahrir Square. (Khalil Hamra / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Egyptian youths attack a police vehicle in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, Nov. 19. (Ahmed Khaled / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. Protesters chant slogans in Tahrir Square, the focal point of the uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak, in Cairo on Nov. 18. (Khalil Hamra / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. Egyptian protesters take over Tahrir Square in Cairo on Nov. 18. (Khaled Elfiqi / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
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