Egypt's Hosni Mubarak Names Vice President, Chaos Descends in Cairo


But unlike in Tunisia, the police and the military are on the side of Mubarak's government, an administration that is very strong and is not expected to yield power easily.

While the United States was quick to support the aspirations of Tunisian protesters once the government there was toppled, Egypt is a different story.

As one of only two Arab countries who recognize Israel, it plays a critical role in the Mideast peace process and is one of the United States' strongest allies, and one of the lead recipients of its foreign aid, in the region.

Mubarak was invited to the White House to help launch the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian talks last year. Egypt is also considered a regional leader, albeit fading, and a key voice in a strategically important area. Recent documents released by Wikileaks show that the United States has held a nuanced view of Mubarak's Egypt, tolerating human rights abuses and the veneer of democracy in exchange for geopolitical influence.

Egyptian Protests Gain Pace

While the demonstrations began on Tuesday, they culminated on Friday, as thousands of protesters poured onto the streets after Friday prayers, tearing down posters of Mubarak and chanting "out, out, out."

They were met with by armored vehicles and police firing a barrage of rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons. But the crowds, seething with anger, were unrelenting and retaliated by throwing rocks at the police.

Thousands across the country continued to demonstrate until late into the night, defying a country-wide curfew imposed by the government.

The army patrolled the streets, called in by the government for the first time ever in the country's history to enforce a nationwide overnight curfew.

The remnants of Friday night's violent clashes are still widely visible. The headquarters of the ruling National Democratic Party in Cairo continued to smolder after being torched Friday night, as did scores of police stations in the port city of Alexandria, that also fell victim to the crowds' wrath.

Tourism, a key part of the Egyptian economy, has been put on a virtual standstill as international carriers cancelled flights out of Egypt and droves of tourists huddled at the airport to find the next flight home. Cruise companies and tour providers cancelled their plans as the State Department issued a travel alert Friday urging Americans to defer any non-essential travel to Egypt.

Most visitors remained huddled in their hotels as protesters clashed with the police on the streets.

"The people in the hotel seem pretty calm. Right outside our hotel a car was set on fire and there was some tension at that point because the fire grew quite large," said Rahul Mandiga, an American who has been in Egypt for a week and in Cairo since Wednesday. "From our standpoint it seems as though the protesters are mainly concerned about voicing their complaints rather than causing disruption primarily."

ABC News' Jake Tapper and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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