CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's powerful military stepped up its presence across this anarchic capital on Sunday, closing roads with tanks and sending F-16 fighter jets streaking over downtown in a show of force after days of looting, armed robbery and anti-government protests.
The army made no attempt, however, to disperse some 5,000 protesters gathered at Tahrir Square, a plaza in the heart of downtown that protesters have occupied since Friday afternoon. They have violated a curfew to call for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime, which they blame for poverty, unemployment, widespread corruption and police brutality.
Nobel Peace laureate and democracy advocate Mohamed ElBaradei appeared in the square around 7 p.m.
“You are the owners of this revolution. You are the future,” he told the cheering crowd. “Our essential demand is the departure of the regime and the beginning of a new Egypt in which each Egyptian lives in virtue, freedom and dignity.”
One of the senior leaders of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, which wants to establish an Islamist state in the Arab world’s most populous nation, told the Associated Press he was heading to Tahrir, or Liberation, Square to meet with other opposition leaders.
“You can call this a revolution; you can call this uprising; you can call it anything,” Essam el-Erian said.
On the first day of trading across the Mideast after a weekend of protests and violence, nervous investors drove stocks down sharply. Crowds of foreigners filled Cairo International Airport, desperate and unable to leave because dozens of flights were canceled and delayed.
Gangs of armed men attacked at least four jails across Egypt before dawn, helping to free hundreds of Muslim militants and thousands of other inmates. Young men with guns and large sticks smashed cars and robbed people in Cairo.
The official death toll from five days of growing crisis stood at 97, with thousands injured, but reports from witnesses across the country indicated that the actual toll was far higher.
The lawlessness, uncertainty, and indications of an attempted exodus from Cairo were gravely damaging Egypt’s economy, particularly tourism, which accounts for as much as 11 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
Banks were closed on orders from Egypt’s Central Bank, and the stock market was shut.
An unprecedented Internet cutoff remained in place after the country’s four primary Internet providers stopped moving data in and out of the country in an apparent move by authorities to disrupt the organization of demonstrations blaming Mr. Mubarak’s regime for poverty, unemployment, widespread corruption and police brutality.
The U.S. Embassy in Cairo told its citizens in Egypt to consider leaving the country as soon as possible and said it had authorized the voluntary departure of dependents and non-emergency employees, a display of Washington’s escalating concern about the stability of its closest Arab ally.
Private tour groups and corporations began trying to evacuate their clients and expatriate employees. But dozens of flights were canceled and delayed, and crowds, desperate and unable to leave, filled Cairo International Airport.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the United States expects that the protests in Egypt will lead to free and fair elections as part of an “orderly” transition to “real democracy.”