Nightly News | February 16, 2011
>>> good evening. we've been covering our lead story tonight, steadily watching it grow and what started in cairo, the uprising, we saw before our very own eyes has now spread to libya , among other places, where it is shocking to see a depiction of moammar gadhafi on fire, but there it is. pictures from social media making their way from the internet to us and then around the world. this chain of nations where a lot of rulers fear they may be next also makes it tough for the u.s. in knowing how to respond and when. again tonight we go to cairo. we begin with our chief foreign affairs correspondent, richard engel . richard , good evening.
>> reporter: good evening, brian. the middle east has simply never seen anything like this before. every day we are now looking at a map, trying to figure out where this is going. for now, it seems to be yemen , bahrain and libya . [ chanting ]
>> reporter: the shock waves from egypt are still spreading. today libya saw the worst of it. in benghazi, libya 's second largest city, protesters were furious tuesday night at the arrest of a human rights activist . a video then appeared online today claiming to show gunfire in the city this morning. it's difficult to tell who's firing and where. the libyan unrest, like in egypt , is organized online, with videos like this one showing moammar gadhafi with the ousted leaders of tunisia and egypt . gadhafi, in power for 41 years, was once considered the united states ' main enemy in the middle east . in a potentially dangerous concession to protesters today, libya released 110 islamic militants from prison, including the brother of one of al qaeda 's top commanders. we spoke to the brother by telephone. he told us the libyan militants are not a threat to the west. protesters are calling for a day of rage in libya on thursday. in iran, there were clashes today at a funeral for a protester killed on monday. the government is taking a hard line to stop the protests, calling for the execution of opposition leaders. nbc's ali arouzi is in tehran.
>> reporter: richard , opposition leaders went online today to say they were unafraid and to thank protesters for turning out on monday. later today the internet in iran was slowed almost to a halt.
>> reporter: and at night, the sound of defiance has returned. cries of "god is greater" shouted from tehran's rooftops. the hallmark of a similar uprising in 2009 . in yemen , a country where the united states would likely prefer reform to regime collapse, protests continued for a sixth day. a police truck drove through crowds to disperse them. the united states supports the yemeni government. without it, al qaeda could have an even bigger sanctuary in yemen . protests are also spreading in bahrain , a tiny but crucial u.s. ally. demonstrators today held a funeral for one of two people killed this week. thousands of protesters are also trying to copy egypt 's revolt, camping out in the main square of the capital. "the new york times" nicholas kristof was there.
>> reporter: richard , there were huge and growing crowds today. there was no violence largely because the police pulled back and seemed to avoid confrontations after the previous deaths. it was also striking how many women there were involved in the protests.
>> i'm here to be with my brothers and my sisters. i want democracy, we want a free country .
>> reporter: trouble in bahrain could further destabilize the region and u.s. interests. bahrain is the base of the navy's fifth fleet and has a sectarian divide. the royal family is sunni. 70% of the people and nearly all of the protesters are shiites. the same explosive mix as in iraq. protests are spreading there too. iraq was supposed to be the model for democratic success in the region. but iraqis complain about corruption and the lack of services and security. major demonstrations are planned against the iraqi government next week. and here in egypt , brian, demonstrations are supposed to start again on friday to celebrate, but also warn the army that the people here expect democracy.
>> richard engel after another wild day across that region. richard ,