The Egyptian government, besieged by a wave of public demonstrations against the rule of President Hosni Mubarak, said it will get tough and arrest and prosecute anyone participating in street riots. At least four people, including a police officer, have already died in widespread protests.

Tear gas and water cannons were used against protesters in Tahrir Square, in the very heart of Cairo. In the northern port city of Alexandria, thousands of protesters shouted: Revolution, revolution, like a volcano, against Mubarak the coward.

The Interior Ministry said it will no longer tolerate public gatherings, protests and marches. Technically, demonstrations are illegal anyway without government approval and protests by the opposition are forbidden.

Inspired by the protesters in Tunisia who toppled their President, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, the Egyptians seek to oust President Mubarak, who has ruled the nation since 1981after Anwar Sadat was assassinated.

The government blames much of the current violence to the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned Islamic group, although they are reportedly indifferent to the protests.

Social conditions in Egypt – including high joblessness, poverty and state corruption – are similar to those in Tunisia, although Egypt is a much larger and poorer nation.

Washington, which officially backs Mubarak, has urged the Egyptian rulers to permit the anti-government protests – saying this current crisis represents an important opportunity to be responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people and that Egypt should pursue political, economic and social reforms that can improve their lives and help Egypt prosper.