By Deborah Jerome

Battles between Egyptian police and protesters against the thirty-year regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak continued in Cairo and Suez, despite a ban on demonstrations and a nationwide security crackdown. More than 860 people have reportedly been arrested in the protests and six have reportedly died in demonstrations that create diplomatic challenges for the Obama administration and could have repercussions across the Middle East.

The political turmoil in Egypt follows demonstrations in Tunisia that culminated in the January 14 ouster of longtime authoritarian president Zine el Abedine Ben Ali and inspired protests in other Arab states.

As in Tunisia, Algeria, and elsewhere, the demonstrations have been spearheaded by a "leaderless young force" of tens of thousands of youth adept at deploying social media to help organize protests and share information. In Yemen, tens of thousands of people demonstrated against the government of President Abdullah Saleh, who has been in power for nearly thirty-two years.

There are reports that Egypt's government has blocked Twitter and Facebook accounts, but the April 6 Youth movement that has organized demonstrations through Facebook is calling for another large protest after Friday prayers. Though the government has tried to place blame on the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest opposition organization, the protests are reportedly broader based. As in Tunisia, the unrest is a response to government corruption, unemployment, and other issues. Mubarak's regime has often presented itself as the only viable alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Prize-winning former head of the International Atomic Energy Association, plans to return to Egypt from Vienna today to participate in the protests. ElBaradei has sought to unite Egypt's fragmented opposition since he moved into Egyptian politics last year, but he says the youth movement seems to have accomplished that.

Egypt's most significant political turmoil in years spells difficult diplomatic choices for U.S. President Barack Obama, who wants to show solidarity with Egyptian protesters without undermining one of Washington's closest Arab allies. White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs said Egypt remains "a close ally," while stressing the importance of universal rights for the Egyptian people. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement urging restraint and asking the Egyptian government to allow peaceful protests instead of cracking down; she also noted that Egypt is "stable" and that the government is "looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests" of the Egyptian people. ElBaradei criticized Clinton and others yesterday, writing that Egypt is confronting "social disintegration, economic stagnation, political repression, and we do not hear anything from you, the Americans, or for that matter from the Europeans."

(Deborah Jerome is a deputy editor at