Voices From Egypt

Melissa Block speaks to a human rights activist, university professor and journalist in Egypt about the protests that have spread across Egypt.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Now, to some other voices from the streets of Egypt.

Mustapha Kamel al-Sayyid is a professor of political science at Cairo University. He hasn't joined in the protests, but he and fellow professors did sign a letter supporting the demonstrators. Today, he encountered one of those protests.

Professor MUSTAPHA KAMEL AL-SAYYID (Political Science, Cairo University): Around 1:30 this afternoon, I saw a demonstration happening, in fact, in front of my house, and the demonstrators were mostly young people, and they were calling for the fall of the regime under the slogan which they repeated many times was: change, freedom, justice, humanity.

BLOCK: What is that slogan in Arabic?

Prof. AL-SAYYID: This is the (Arabic spoken).

BLOCK: And, of course, he heard many chants for Mubarak to step down, which professor al-Sayyid says should happen if the president doesn't agree to a long list of political, social and economic reforms.

Prof. AL-SAYYID: If he does not accept these demands, I think he should step down immediately. But I think the only way for this situation to be resolved is for President Mubarak to go away. If he stays in power, I think we are going to continue to see this kind of unrest.

BLOCK: That's Cairo University professor Mustapha Kamel al-Sayyid. We also reached Ramy Raoof today. He works for a human rights group, and he was among the throngs of protesters in the streets of Cairo.

Mr. RAMY RAOOF: I joined the demonstration today in a district in Cairo (unintelligible), and it was a very huge demonstration. And the police in the beginning they did not cordon us or didn't start any violence against us. We kept marching freely for around one hour and a half. And then suddenly, the police showed up everywhere, and they started to surround us and they started to throw on us stones and gases and teargases. And they started to shoot in the air dumdum bullets to make the people more afraid.

And then, police vehicles kept rolling on the street against the demonstrators. And then, police officers in civilian dress holding their batons went against the demonstrators and started to beat all the demonstrators, wearing their civilian dress, not their official dress.

BLOCK: The police were using batons you're saying, and throwing stones and glass...

Mr. RAOOF: Yes.

BLOCK: ...at the protesters.

Mr. RAOOF: Yes.

BLOCK: Were there any injuries?

Mr. RAOOF: Yes. There are many injuries. Yes.

BLOCK: Are you afraid, Ramy, I mean, with the increased police presence, the tanks, the riot police that are out, are you afraid for your safety?

Mr. RAOOF: No.

BLOCK: Why not?

Mr. RAOOF: Why would I be afraid?

BLOCK: Well, it could turn violent. It could turn even more violent.

Mr. RAOOF: Yeah. It could turn more violent, yeah, but I'm not afraid. I mean, as long as we are saying what we want to say in the street, that's our right.

BLOCK: But you're not afraid. I mean, if there were to be a crackdown, aren't you afraid for what would happen?

Mr. RAOOF: That's the point. Every time Egyptians do any peaceful assembly, it ends up (unintelligible) by the police officers. But nowadays, there are tens of thousands of Egyptians in the streets, so we are more powerful now than any time before.

BLOCK: We are more powerful now than any time before, the words of protester Ramy Raoof in Cairo.

The protests have spread across Egypt, to Suez and to the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria. That's where we reached Souad Mekhennet, a special correspondent for The New York Times. She told us the story about one face-off between protesters and police.

Ms. SOUAD MEKHENNET (Correspondent, The New York Times): When the police basically understood that there were too many protesters, they were standing face to face, and then the protestors were shouting: This is a peaceful march, and we are one. You know, this is Egypt. We are all Egyptians. And then they started to shake hands with the police. And we saw that some protestors even gave water or other things to drink to the policemen.

BLOCK: How did the police respond?

Ms. MEKHENNET: You know, they were - actually, there was one situation where I overhead how a protestor spoke to a policeman, and they were both saying to each other, yeah, we are also - I mean, the policeman said yeah, I'm also not happy with what's going on. But, you know, my job is my job. I have to do my job.

And they were pretty speechless. It was an incredible situation, actually, to see that, those two sides who had been enemies for more than two hours, you know, this battle was going on, and then at the end, they shake hands. And you could hear from the policemen that they said, yeah, at the end of the day, we are also Egyptians. And we don't want to hurt our brothers.

For them, it seemed to have been very tough to attack young Egyptians who, at the end of the day, were just trying to protest against what they think is unjust. And many of the policemen seemed to silently agree to what these protestors actually were marching for.

BLOCK: That's Souad Mekhennet. She's reporting for The New York Times from Alexandria, Egypt.

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