Protesters In Egypt Push For Mubarak To Leave

First came the revolution in Tunisia; then protests elsewhere in the Arab world started. In Egypt, demonstrators are calling for an end to three decades of rule by President Hosni Mubarak.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

First came the revolution in Tunisia. Now come protests elsewhere in the Arab world. In Egypt, they're calling for an end to three decades of rule by President Hosni Mubarak. The unrest has claimed the lives of several protesters and at least one policeman this week. The U.S. weighed in yesterday with some stronger-than-usual diplomatic language for its close ally. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Egypt to respond to the protesters calls for reforms. Our correspondent in Cairo, NPRs Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, joins us on the line. And Soraya, whats happening today?

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Earlier in the morning there were lots of protests still going on, these small impromptu protests. And in some of the places here in Egypt, in the port city of Suez, in particular, where most of the protestors were killed; they lit a government building on fire, they have been burning tires in the streets and engaging the police with rock throwing, that sort of thing. The police have, in turn, responded with tear gas, rubber bullets, and batons, and certainly many people are being detained there.

But in the - generally what seems to be happening, or the trend is that these sort of protests start picking up late in the afternoon and they go all the way through the night, into the predawn hours, and then things slow down for a little bit in the morning, where I guess, people are sort of catching their breath and getting some sleep.

MONTAGNE: You were in Tunisia earlier this month, Soraya. How do these protests there in Egypt compare?

SARHADDI NELSON: I posed this question to lawyers here to the lawyers that I talked to for the detainees, to find out how they think this is different, because certainly that's an inspiration for what's going on is what happened in Tunisia earlier. But here the art of protests or the culture of protests if you will is a little bit more established. It's been around for several years. But what's also more established is the government. They're far stronger here.

So even though a lot of people are motivated, and people who have never protested before are now out in the streets taking these great risks to make their voices heard, the feeling is that this is not going to be a sudden change. This is not likely to be another Tunisia where the first family flees in a short time.

The other thing that's important to note is that we've seen police forces, we've seen demonstrators. We've seen nothing of the army, and I think that's going to be a really crucial role about whether the army comes out and stands on the side of the people or stands on the side of the government, or doesn't get involved at all.

MONTAGNE: And the protests, give us a sense of who's leading them.

SARHADDI NELSON: There isn't really a single leader, if you will. There are a lot of groups that have been involved in protests in the past that are helping organize it, but it seems to be a lot of self-generating through Twitter and Facebook, if you will, people saying come out here, oh, there's something going on there, and that seems to be drawing people to these locations.

Young people, in particular, are drawn to this. They represent the largest percentage of the population and they are facing the greatest challenges here; with unemployment, you know, they finish their education and they have nowhere to go, no jobs, and they're very frustrated. And so they're very much a part of it.

But it's important to note that Mohammed ElBaradei, the Nobel laureate, is expected to come back to Egypt tonight. He was seen, for a while anyway, as sort of a de facto leader of the opposition, or of the growing popular movement. It will be interesting to see if he tries to take on that role again when he returns.

MONTAGNE: Soraya, thanks very much for joining us.

SARHADDI NELSON: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson speaking to us from Cairo

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