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Egypt uprising: Making my way home during the battle for Tahrir

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I arrived in Cairo today at 8 p.m. after leaving Boston at 6 the evening before. The last bit of news I had was watching President Obama call for restraint and telling Egypt's leader Hosni Mubarak that "an orderly transition ... must begin now."

In the interval, disorder broke out in Tahrir Square, the focal point of unprecedented protests against President Mubarak's near 30-year rule in Cairo. At least three demonstrators were killed and 1,500 more wounded in running battles around Tahrir. Based on what I heard from the ragtag "popular committees" that a friend and I encountered on our circuitous way home from the airport, from reporting – like that of Monitor Cairo correspondent Kristen Chick – that I read when I arrived at my hotel, and e-mail and phone conversations with people I trust, this was not as simple as a clash between "pro" and "anti" Mubarak demonstrators.

Most informed observers were convinced that the violence was driven by Egypt's infamous baltaguia – plainclothes thugs from the state security services and gang members on their payroll, who have periodically been mobilized to break heads when protests emerge. They're used to prevent opposition supporters from making their way to the polls during Egypt's farcical elections (I've witnessed this three times personally), to put down labor strikes (seen that, too), and now appear to be out on the streets in favor of the established order, if not in service of specifically extending Mubarak's rule.

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