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Live from Cairo, Patrick Martin describes Egypt's 'day of wrath'

Locals pray in the street in front of The l-Istiqama Mosque watched by riot police in Giza on Jan. 28, 2011 in Cairo, Egypt.

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

The Globe's Middle East correspondent is currently in Cairo, reporting on developments as protests escalate. All mobile phone and Internet services in Egypt have been severed, but Patrick Martin took your questions over the phone via our staff in the Toronto newsroom.

We transcribed the questions and responses below.

(10:23 a.m. ET - 5:23 p.m. in Cairo) Jennifer MacMillan: Thanks for joining us today. I'm The Globe's Communities Editor, and I'll be moderating this discussion with Patrick Martin. Patrick is currently in Cairo, where all mobile phone and Internet service have been cut, so we're doing this live Q&A in a slightly different way. Patrick is on the phone with me from a landline in Cairo, and I'll be relaying your questions to him over the phone. He'll reply and I'll transcribe his answers into the discussion. So please excuse any typos - I'll be transcribing as fast as I can, and a few are bound to crop up.

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(10:25 a.m. ET) Jennifer MacMillan: @FadiAlQassar asks via Twitter: do you think the momentum of the protests on the streets will slow down any time soon?

(10:25 a.m. ET) Patrick Martin: There's no doubt that the security forces in the first hour of this confrontation have scored some sort of victory.

They were well-organized and showed how they could divide the protesters into smaller, manageable groups and bar them from such places as the bridges across the Nile where they have the tactical advantage.

The people are funnelled into a bottleneck and the forces are there waiting for htem. The scale of the success without using deadly force (as far as I know) might prevent more people from joining the protests.

We'll know in the next 18 hours which way it's going to go.

(10:27 a.m. ET) Jennifer MacMillan: Here's our next question via Twitter from @amandamgrant: Al Jazeera is reporting army vehicles in Egypt - are you seeing this? Are the numbers as large as #jan25?

(10:28 a.m. ET) Patrick Martin: Certainly there are tens of thousands of protesters trying to make their way from the east bank of the Nile across the river to downtown Cairo. It appears that their numbers are similar to that of Tuesday.

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There are scores of armoured vehicles but these are vehicles that belong to the security forces, not the army. So far all of the battles are being waged by forces under the interior ministry, the army is being kept out of the way.

(10:29 a.m. ET) Jennifer MacMillan: Here's our next question via Twitter from @jennycensus: Where are the women in Egypt's protests? Is the threat of sexual violence by security forces keeping them at bay?

(10:30 a.m. ET) Patrick Martin: The split is about 60-40, mostly men. Roughly half of the female protesters are secular, not wearing a headscarf. The others are more religiously observant. I stood with them today and cried with quite a large number of women who were tear gassed, along with the men.

(10:31 a.m. ET) Jennifer MacMillan: Here's our next question via Twitter from @goldmourn: Does hope remain strong among activists for change in gov't? Has shutting down the internet intensified the protests?

(10:32 a.m. ET) Patrick Martin: I was really impressed by the diversity of the protesters. I spoke to people in their 40s and 50s. I spoke to students in their teens and 20s. They all sounded the same notes: we only want a real democracy, we only want the freedom of any civilized society. They started calling the security forces cowards when I spoke with them. they should be turning and joining us, one fellow said.

I would say the commitment of the protesters in the face of the security forces remains high. But the practical success of these forces in these early hours may discourage others from joining it.

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From a tactical point of view, shutting off the Internet, cell phones, BlackBerrys, was a brilliant stroke by the security forces.

It meant that the protesters were largely unable to communicate to make collecitive deicsions and were essentially leaderless. It was only their determination that kept them rushing at the security forces time after time despite the tear gassing.

But without communication, I think that the opposition will suffer a big blow.

(10:38 a.m. ET) Jennifer MacMillan: We're now just getting some reports coming in that the army have been called in.

(10:38 a.m. ET) Patrick Martin: I heard earlier this week the tipping point for the army getting involved was 70,000 people. Unless they begin advancing from other directions, I think there's a very good chance the army will not fire on the protesters. I think their very presence will be a deterrent. The protesters' respect for the army is very high. One blogger told me "The army will protect us from the security police." I think they will be able to bring order without firing a shot. To my knowledge, the security forces haven't used deadly force.

(10:39 a.m. ET) From reader TMTM: Is Elberadai detained? and if the new Parliament that is in session ?

(10:40 a.m. ET) Patrick Martin: I have heard on TV that El Baradei may be under house arrest but they don't seem to be firm. I stood a few feet away from him today at the noon prayers and he had a very small entourage. When I last saw him he was on the safe side of a battle at Giza square. The police had allowed him to cross the street before they moved the water cannons and tear gas in. That was about five hours ago.

The ruling party, the national democratic party, gave a press conference yesterday afternoon and it was the first communication that had come from the government since the crisis began on Tuesday.

They said they were prepared to talk to the youth, to the various groups of Egypt in order to facilitate some reform.

But they insisted that in a democracy, change wouldn't come from the use of force and they insisted that order be established before they begin any dialogue.

(10:44 a.m. ET) From reader TMTM: what is the main protesters demands? or it just a revolution against the status quo

(10:47 a.m. ET) Patrick Martin: The common demand from the very diverse protest movements has been for real democratic processes to be put in place. They use various terms: freedom, dignity, human rights, but it all amounts to having a true democratic process here. They feel that voting is rigged at the parliamentary and presidential levels.

The other thing that has become more common is that real change can only take place when Hosni Mubarak leaves. That wasn't their original goal, but it has come to be just as prominent as the call for democracy. Today the chanting was more against Mubarak than in favour of democracy. But what's very interesting is that a lot of the youthful leadership doesn't know what they want to have in place should they win and Mubarak leave office.

Their thinking has only taken them to the point where he would go and a vague democratic system would be put in place. They're full of enthusiasm, bravery and determination but they aren't very well-organized with a vision for the future.

(10:47 a.m. ET) Jennifer MacMillan: Patrick, is the Muslim Brotherhood playing a major role in this protest now?

(10:49 a.m. ET) Patrick Martin: When these protests began on Tuesday, the Muslim Brotherhood played no part whatsoever. This was a secular, youthful uprising that the govt wrongly attributed to the Muslim Brotherhood. In fact, the organizers didn't want the brotherhood to be involved. Yesterday I met with one of the leaders of the brotherhood and they made the decision that they would join the parade. Not at the front or at the back of the parade, but in the middle. He explained they didn't want to give the govt forces an excuse to use really harsh violence against the protesters, whcih they believe would have happened if it had been seen as a Muslim Brotherhood protest. However I saw very little evidence of brotherhood followers followers in the protest today.

(10:50 a.m. ET) Jennifer MacMillan: Patrick, Washington's response is key - what are people saying there about Obama's position on the protests?

(10:53 a.m. ET) Patrick Martin: President Obama's nuanced position hasn't registered with that many protesters. His call for reform and for non-violence would undoubtedly be supported here but the people generally believe that Mubarak remains in power because of Western support, especially American support.

While the forces today have apparently not used deadly force, they have resorted to violence in the face of peaceful protest. They fired water cannons and tear gas at crowds that were doing no more than chanting. The ball is now in President Obama's court as to how he should respond to that. And I'm sure the protesters will be eager to know the answer.

(10:54 a.m. ET) From reader Nikki: Is Cairo is safe for tourists? (My mother-in-law and Grandmother-in-law are flying in today for a few days and then off on a cruise on the Nile)

(10:57 a.m. ET) Patrick Martin: I think it's not a bad time to visit Egypt at all. Neither the security forces nor the protesters want to bring any harm to visitors to the country.

Hotels have made arrangements for security bringing people in and out of their facilities and the worst they're likely to encounter unless you go out of your way are detours if you're forced to go around certain parts of town.

These protests are not like the activity of the Gamaa Islamiyah of the early 1990s. That extremist Islamist movement specifically targeted foreigners. Many of the people that I met today in the protests are well-educated and work for multinational companies. They would welcome you here.

(10:58 a.m. ET) From reader Nikki: Thanks Patrick

(11:03 a.m. ET) Jennifer MacMillan: Thanks very much to Patrick for joining us today, despite the technical obstacles. That's all the time we have for at the moment, but we appreciate all of the questions. To read more of Patrick's reporting from Cairo in today's Globe and Mail, click here. We also have just posted an audio report from Patrick in Cairo. Updates will be posted at throughout the day.

To follow the latest updates from journalists in Egypt, follow The Globe and Mail's Egypt Twitter list.

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