Egypt Turmoil Creates U.S. Diplomatic Problem

In Egypt, protesters again called for the removal of President Hosni Mubarak Jan. 27, 2011.
In Egypt, protesters again called for the removal of President Hosni Mubarak Jan. 27, 2011.

CAIRO - In the Middle East, a wave of angry protests is spreading country to country threatening a number of longstanding regimes, stability in the region and creating serious diplomatic problems for the United States.

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It started in Tunisia with the overthrow two weeks ago of the president. On Thursday, tens of thousands demanded Yemeni President Ali Salih step down. He's ruled for 32 years and is a key ally of the U.S. in the war on terror.

In Egypt, another important American ally, protesters again called for the removal of President Hosni Mubarak, CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reports.

Obama on Egypt: "Violence Is Not the Answer"

Police brutality is at its most explicit. A protestor in the Sinai Desert was shot dead as he ran. The unrest in Egypt has spread like wildfire. In Suez, about hour east of the capital, furious mobs burned down government buildings.

Just like the huge street protests that erupted in Iran in 2009, Egypt's uprising is a real movement that was born in a virtual world led by young, educated activists like Ahmed Saleh, who understands the power of social networking.

"Millions of Egyptians live on Facebook," Saleh said.

A call for action went out on Facebook, which initially reached more than a million people. It was then amplified by a torrent of Twitter messages.

"Egypt was in more than one in every 200 Tweets on Twitter," said Saleh, "in all the Tweets in the world."

It was Egypt's urban youth that led the protests earlier in the week, but demands for change will gain real traction only when the grassroots join in.

The anger behind this uprising is about a lot of things, abuse, corruption and freedom of expression, but above all it's about unemployment and the price of food, which has skyrocketed in a country where almost half the population lives on less than $2 a day.

Those Egyptians -- struggling to make ends meet -- are expected to take to the streets Friday.

They'll be joined by Egypt's most famous opposition figure, Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, who arrived in Cairo Thursday night and pledged to march Friday.

So did the legions of Muslim Brotherhood supporters, Egypt's most powerful Islamist organization.

Organizers hope Friday's demonstration will be so massive the police will have to stand back and let the people be heard.

  • Elizabeth Palmer
    Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."