© Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty ImagesAl-Jazeera journalists gather at the channel's bureau in Cairo today. Egypt has ordered a shutdown of al-Jazeera's operations, the country's state broadcaster said.
Egypt today shut down the operations of the Arabic satellite TV channel al-Jazeera, blaming it for encouraging the country's uprising - and demonstrating that the repressive powers of central government are still functioning.

The state-run Mena news agency reported that the information ministry had ordered "suspension of operations of al-Jazeera, cancelling of its licenses and withdrawing accreditation to all its staff, as of today".

The Egyptian government has never made a secret of its dislike for the channel, but the final straw may have been an interview it broadcast yesterday with the popular cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who called on the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, to leave the country immediately.

Al-Jazeera has faced interference with its communications from Egypt since Friday.

The Qatar-based channel immediately denounced the closure, but insisted that it would carry on regardless. "Al-Jazeera sees this as an act designed to stifle and repress the freedom of reporting by the network and its journalists," a statement said.

"In this time of deep turmoil and unrest in Egyptian society it is imperative that voices from all sides be heard. The closing of our bureau by the Egyptian government is aimed at censoring and silencing the voices of the Egyptian people. "

Al-Jazeera correspondents have been reporting round the clock, in Arabic and English, from Cairo, Suez and Alexandria since the unprecedented unrest erupted early last week.

Qaradawi, often described as the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood - formally banned but still powerful in Egypt - addressed the president bluntly, saying: "Go away, Mubarak, leave the people alone. Enough - you've ruled for 30 years already. Dozens have been killed in one day. You cannot stay."

The Egyptian national, who now lives in Qatar, called on Mubarak to follow the example of the Tunisian president, Zine al-Abidine Bin Ali, and leave honourably.

No country is more important to the Arab world than Egypt, and audiences across the region have been riveted by the unfolding drama on the satellite channel, popular precisely because it is so different from the normal run of self-censoring state media.

It is not the first time Egypt has cracked down on al-Jazeera. The channel came under fire during the Israeli attack on Gaza in late 2008 amid charges that it was lionising the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas and aggravating the rift between moderate and rejectionist camps in the Arab world.

In 2006, its bureau chief in Cairo was charged with the false reporting of bomb blasts in the Sinai desert. Egypt also came under suspicion of jamming al-Jazeera broadcasts during the football World Cup in South Africa last summer.

Al-Jazeera, which is owned by the emir of Qatar, is often accused of promoting populist and alternative agendas by attacking repressive regimes and supporting Hamas or Hizbullah in Lebanon.

It was blamed for inciting unrest through its vivid coverage of the Tunisian uprising and was attacked by the Palestinian Authority over its recent coverage of the leaked Palestine papers.