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.

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.

For Complete Coverage of the Crisis in Egypt, Featuring Exclusive Reporting From Christiane Amanpour, Click Here

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.

United States Concerned About Egypt Uprising

The ripples of the uprising in Egypt are being felt across the world, especially in the United States.

Egypt is one of United States' closest allies in the Middle East -- helping broker peace deals with Israel and fighting terrorism -- and any instability in the region could be gravely dangerous to U.S. interests in the region.

Administration officials are closely monitoring the situation, as evidenced by constant Tweets from State Department spokesman PJ Crowley.

"The #Egyptian government can't reshuffle the deck and then stand pat. President #Mubarak's words pledging reform must be followed by action," Crowley said in his latest Tweet.

The president met with his national security team this afternoon for a little more than an hour. The president was updated on the situation in Egypt and he reiterated the administration's focus on opposing violence and calling for restraint; supporting universal rights; and supporting concrete steps that advance political reform within Egypt, the White House said.

The U.S. government has stepped up pressure on Mubarak's government, calling on security forces to allow freedom of speech and saying it would reconsider the $1.5 billion in aid it gives to the country if violence were to escalate. But at the same time, they have been walking a fine line, telling both sides to practice restraint.

After a 30-minute phone conversation with Mubarak, President Obama took to the cameras Friday night, saying that the Egyptian president vowed to lay the groundwork for reforms to tackle the economy, unemployment and poverty in the country.

Obama said he told Mubarak "you have a responsibility to bring meaning to those words" and to make his promises come true.

Obama also called on the Egyptian to end its blockage of cell phones and the Internet, lecturing Mubarak that his people "have rights that are universal, rights to peaceful assembly... free speech and the right to determine their own destiny."

"There must be reform," Obama said bluntly, and at another point warned that the "U.S. will stand up for rights of Egyptian people."

The U.S. has made clear its disapproval of its ally's use of force to break up the massive protests, but administration officials have so far refused to directly implicate Mubarak, whose ouster is the focal point of this week's protests.

The United States had been urging Mubarak, a staunch U.S. ally, to make reforms to appease the protestors before they push him out of power. The administration has tried to support the right of the demonstrators to gather and protests, but does not want to see Mubarak fall and so they have urged him in public and in private to reform before it is too late.

The best case scenario for the administration is he makes the reforms and stays in power, but if he is toppled, analysts question whether the new leaders that fill the power vacuum will be as strongly allied with the U.S.

A number of Egyptians expressed frustration with the U.S. government and President Obama, telling ABC News that for all the talk about freedom, the U.S. is not supporting it in Egypt. One protester pointed to the fact that the tear gas canisters being used by the police are made in the U.S.

The Egyptian army was called to protect the U.S. embassy at the behest of the United States as anger against the West grew.

Protests have spread through Arab countries in recent weeks, starting with street demonstrations in Tunisia which forced its long-time president to flee. Since then, protests have erupted in Jordan, Egypt and Yemen, all U.S. allies.

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.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events