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

President Hosni Mubarak named a vice president for the first time in 30 years.

ByABC News
January 29, 2011, 7:53 AM

Jan. 29, 2011— -- Chaos overwhelmed the streets of Egypt's capital city of Cairo and security broke down as looters reportedly stormed government buildings and private residences, hours after the appointment of a new vice president by President Hosni Mubarak for the first time in his presidency.

Security forces disappeared from the streets and were replaced by the army, which stood mostly on the sidelines.

Egypt's embattled president named Omar Suleiman, his intelligence chief, the country's vice president in what some say is a sign that Mubarak is paving the way for a successor. He also named Dr. Ahmed Shafeeq, minister of aviation and ex-leader of the Egyptian Air force, as new prime minister in charge of forming the new cabinet.

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Suleiman's appointment and Mubarak's promise on Friday night to implement reforms in Egypt did little to appease protesters, who defied another government-imposed curfew and took to the streets in droves for a fifth straight day of protests, which have led to the death of dozens of Egyptians and injured hundreds more.

"Egypt is in a state of chaos at the moment because the president refuses to listen to its people," said Nobel laureate Muhammed ElBaradei, an activist and former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who returned to the country Thursday to take part in the protests. "We are seeking a change of regime, President Mubarak should step down. ... Any other attempts to circumvent and manipulate the people's demand will lead to more deterioration and I hold the president responsible."

Military reinforcements, equipped with tanks and armored personnel carriers, were spread out throughout Cairo rather than the riot police that has formed the frontline of security all week. But the military is seemingly staying fairly low-key, telling people they are there only to protect them, and not using their weapons.

Mubarak's Cabinet officially resigned Saturday morning, but the embattled president himself continues to hold power. Despite widespread calls for the end to his 30-year rule, Mubarak, 82, has given no indication that he will step down from his powerful post.

In Cairo, masses of demonstrators, angry and frustrated at the country's dire economic situation, high food prices, rising unemployment and decades of corruption and poverty, gathered in "Tahrir Square" -- which means independence -- calling for Mubarak's immediate resignation.

"We refuse the changes that Mubarak has presented in his speech and we are calling for a change to this regime," said Mostafa Bakry, a journalist and former member of Parliament.

Today's protests started earlier than they have all week in an attempt by demonstrators to keep up the momentum that has backed Egypt's president into a corner.

Egypt's mobile phone service was restored after the government blocked it on Friday, along with the internet, in an attempt to quell the uprising. But communication was still spotty.

The scene in Cairo was one of chaos and celebration alike. On the one hand, protesters cheered and welcomed military vehicles. Unlike the police, the army is well-regarded by the masses of protesters and the soldiers were very relaxed and mostly respectful of the crowds.

In a remarkable scene this afternoon, one armored personal carrier or tank after the next cut through large crowds on Tahrir Square, each of them carrying 20 to 30 joyous, chanting protesters on top.

People took pictures in front of tanks, on the tanks and with the soldiers. One tank was even spray painted "Down with Mubarak."

On the other hand, though, the lack of security forces in parts of the city of 18 million have left a vacuum that was filled with looters and vandals.

The Supreme Council of Journalism was torched this evening, and a fire near the Egyptian Museum continued to burn with no help on the way.

Protesters stormed the Egyptian Museum in downtown Cairo earlier today, damaging hundreds of precious artifacts and historical documents even as tanks and a human chain guarded the famed building. The army and Egypt's elite commando unit were called in to secure the historic building from looters.

Al Jazeera reported that demonstrators, chanting their condemnation of Suleiman, stormed houses across Cairo as law and order broke down. The news station also reported that hospitals were attacked by thugs and prisoners were released from several police stations.

An ABC News' fixer was accosted by thugs Friday night, and looters roamed through an ABC News' photographer's neighborhood.

Some reports showed police fighting a pitched battle with protestors at the Interior Ministry in Cairo. Ministry employees told Al Jazeera they left their posts amid fear for their lives.

The key, experts say, will be whether the army opens fire on protesters, a move that could trigger even a bigger uprising and cut off U.S. aid to Egypt. On Friday, administration officials said the United States was reconsidering its aid to Egypt in light of the current protests, and urged Mubarak's government to open up communications and allow people to protest peacefully.

An Egyptian security official told The Associated Press that at least 62 people have been killed in this week's violence, and that at least 750 policemen and 1,500 protesters have been wounded in clashes.

The Central Bank of Egypt has announced it will be closed for the next week, effectively halting all cash transactions in and out of Egypt. In the absence of law and order, Egyptians say they are worried that they will not be able to get any cash and buy food in the next few days.

Protesters say that Suleiman's appointment is not enough and that they want to see an end to Mubarak's nearly 30-year rule.

Suleiman, 74, has led major foreign policy issues in Egypt such as the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, according to The Associated Press. For an intelligence chief, Suleiman enjoyed unusually high level access within successive U.S. administrations. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her predecessor, Condoleezza Rice, who usually only meet with foreign ministers, would meet with Suleiman one-on-one when he visited Washington on his own.

A cable leaked by Wikileaks in 2007 showed that Mubarak's son, Gamal -- who has reportedly escaped to London with his family -- viewed Suleiman as a threat to his own presidential ambitions. Another Bush-era cable from the same year showed that while Suleiman was loyal to Mubarak, he "detests" the idea of a Gamal Mubarak presidency.