Sunday, January 30, 2011

Arab world transfixed by Egyptian protests

By Liz Sly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 30, 2011; 11:22 AM

BAGHDAD - Britain, France and Germany appealed to President Hosni Mubarak on Sunday to refrain from using force against Egyptian protesters as the world and the region remained transfixed by the scenes of turmoil unfolding in Cairo.

TV viewers across the Middle East who had been watching the upheaval unfold live on the Arabic service of the al-Jazeera satellite TV station saw their screens go blank early in the afternoon, as the Egyptian government blocked the service from the Nilesat satellite that serves the region. The English version of al-Jazeera remained on air.

So Arabic-speaking viewers simply switched to one of the many other TV stations covering the protests live, including the U.S.-funded al-Hurra and the Saudi Arabian al-Arabiya network.

None has been covering the protests with quite so much breadth or passion as al-Jazeera, however - the Saudi funded al-Arabiya has been accused of airing too many opinions from members of Egypt's ruling party. The decision to suspend al-Jazeera raised fears that the teetering regime was squashing its harshest critic in preparation for the use of force to quell the protesters.

The joint statement issued by Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: "We call on President Mubarak to avoid at all costs the use of violence against unarmed civilians."

The statement also urged Mubarak to begin political reforms, including the formation of a "broadly-based government and free and fair elections."

Arab governments have mostly remained silent on the protests in Egypt, although Saudi Arabia, a close ally of Egypt, issued a powerfully worded statement on Saturday in support of Mubarak.

The Egyptian protests have ignited hopes as well as fears that the spark ignited by Tunisians' overthrow of their dictatorial regime three weeks ago will now spread, irrevocably, across a region that has long yearned for change.

"This is going to be one big regional wave," said Hilal Khashan, professor of political science at the American University of Beirut. "It is unstoppable."

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