This is a short update on a huge event. Egypt has exploded into something resembling civil war. Here are some key elements of the crisis you need to be aware of:
- Egypt's Internet has gone completely dark, as confirmed by our own Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols.
- Protests are off the charts.
- Trading has been halted on the Egyptian stock exchange.
- The town of Suez has also exploded with violent protests.
- About 7.5% of the world's sea trade (and a majority of European shipping) traverses the Suez Canal, which is now at risk. Like the rest of Egypt's Internet, the Suez Canal Authority is now offline.
- Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's son, widely expected to succeed the 82-year-old leader, fled the country for England.
- Although U.S. VP Joe Biden says Mubarak's no dictator and shouldn't step down, Mubarak's been President for 30 years. That might not mean he's a dictator, but it's probably 20 years too long.
- The unrest is flood across other mid-Eastern countries, including Lebanon, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Mauritania, Tunesia.
We've seen Internet blockages before, but we haven't seen (at least that I can recall) an entire nation go dark and offline.
There is some evidence that the Internet was the primary communication vehicle for the various protests we're seeing in Middle Eastern nations, so it's likely that Mubarak took the ill-advised, surprise action of simply turning it off.
CBS News video: Egypt Protests Fueled by Social Networking
That, more than anything else, will probably lose him his job, if not his head.
Egypt is not the only Middle Eastern country in turmoil. Remember that Iranian citizens used Twitter heavily back in 2008 as an attempt to turn around what they widely considered corrupt elections. Other citizens in other countries are heavily using social networking tools to organize.
Expect this to be a new and very, very dangerous hot point in geopolitics. Also, if the Suez Canal ceases operation or is damaged in some way, expect to see a huge impact on world shipping, prices of shipped goods and services, and delays. In other words, we'll feel this one.
Note to America's leaders
America has long allied with Mubarak and we don't ever advocate or support the armed overthrow of a national leader.
However, I caution you to be circumspect in how supportive you are of Mubarak. Any nation with a leader in office for almost 30 years isn't exactly promoting Democratic principles.
Further, if Egypt has shut off their Internet connection to quell protests, this is an action that must be decried with the strongest words. If you even slightly indicate support for such an action, you'll both open a door to a reprehensible governing tactic and scare the pants off your own citizens.
Finally, avoid jumping into the fray. America's pretty busy right now with our own problems. Let other nations particularly dependent on the Suez Canal, including most European nations, do the heavy lifting here.
Avoid spreading us too thin by involving us in yet one more worldwide crisis.