EGYPTIAN president Hosni Mubarak came under strong pressure from the West yesterday, when Hillary Clinton called for an "orderly transition" to democracy as lawlessness took hold on the streets of Egypt.
As the anti-government revolt raged for a sixth day, with thousands of protesters still on the streets, the US Secretary of State and William Hague, the British Foreign Secretary, barely stopped short of demanding that Mr Mubarak end his 30-year rule immediately. In an obvious sign that their support for his regime was wavering, they made it clear they could envisage a time in the not-too-distant future when the 82 year-old no longer held office.
Both Mrs Clinton and Mr Hague warned that without democratic reform Egypt might fall into the "hands of extremism or a more authoritarian system of government".
In an attempt by the Egyptian military to demonstrate its muscle, two F-16 fighter jets swooped low over central Cairo in the afternoon, making multiple passes over a crowd of 10,000 people or more thronged in Tahrir Square. Mr Mubarak was pictured on state television in a meeting with his vice-president and defence minister at the military operations headquarters.
Before dawn, gangs of armed men attacked at least four jails across Egypt, helping to free hundreds of Muslim militants and thousands of other inmates. Young men with guns and large sticks smashed cars and robbed people in Cairo.
The official death toll from the turmoil yesterday stood at 74, with thousands injured.
Two leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, the best-organised opposition to the regime, who were among those freed from jail, were given a tumultuous welcome when they arrived at Tahrir Square last night. Esam al-Erian told the cheering crowd: "They tried every way to stop the revolution of the people."
Some police returned to the streets, nearly two days after virtually disappearing, creating a security vacuum only partially filled by the presence of soldiers and tanks at key sites. However, local squads of vigilantes had largely taken over the job of trying to keep control amidst widespread looting.
Hundreds of British tourists struggled to leave as Cairo airport went into meltdown. Staff failed to arrive for work and dozens of flights were cancelled. Most countries were warning against all but essential travel.
In a crucial move, the organisers of the protests gave their backing to Mohammed ElBaradei, the Nobel peace laureate, to name a national unity government, giving the demonstrations a political face. Mr ElBaradei took to the streets of Cairo with protesters. He hailed "a new Egypt in which every Egyptian lives in freedom and dignity. We are on the right path, our strength is in our numbers. I ask you to be patient, change is coming."
Speaking in Washington, Mrs Clinton said that Mr Mubarak had to go much further than appointing his first ever vice-president, Omar Suleiman, the military intelligence chief and a new prime minister.
"We're trying to promote an orderly transition and change that will respond to the legitimate grievances of the Egyptian people, which the protests are all about," she said.
"We are urging the Mubarak government, which is still in power, we are urging the military, which is a very respected institution in Egypt, to do what is necessary to facilitate that kind of orderly transition."
Asked if Mr Mubarak could survive the protests, she replied: "This is going to be up to the Egyptian people. But we already have a calendar that has elections for the next president scheduled (in September) so there is an action-enforcing event already on the calendar." (© Daily Telegraph, London)