Egyptian Streets Fill With Protesters, Tanks

Protesters were back out of the streets of Cairo Saturday, demanding the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Military troops have replaced police assigned to quell the demonstrators, but the troops have mostly been met with cheers and warm greetings. Host Scott Simon gets the latest of the situation from NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Cairo.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Egypt stands at the edge of history today as President Hosni Mubarak faces the most serious challenge to his long, authoritarian reign. His cabinet has resigned on his orders, but there is no sign that he will join them. President Mubarak appeared on television last night, and promised to uphold the liberties of demonstrators. But he also pledged to quell anti-government protest forcefully.

His address apparently did little to tamp down the uprising against him. Protesters are back on the streets of Cairo, demanding Mr. Mubarak step down. They were confronted by soldiers and while no injuries have been reported today, security officials say that five days of protests have left at least 25 demonstrators and 10 police officers dead.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson joins us now from Tahrir Square in Cairo, which has been a focal point of the protests. And Soraya, what's the scene today?

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Well, the square is filling up very rapidly with many, many protesters. It looks like some people are getting off work or just arriving. Basically, the chants continue, and they're calling for Mr. Mubarak to go. They are not satisfied with the speech he gave last night. They don't want cabinet dissolution; they want him to leave.

And so at this stage, they are not willing to give up this revolution. And in fact, it's interesting because they're also not letting some of the politicians in opposition come out today to quote-unquote, co-opt their revolution, as one of the demonstrators told me.

SIMON: And Soraya, have you been able to get a handle on what the situation is like elsewhere in the country, outside of Cairo?

SARHADDI NELSON: I have not; unfortunately, the Internet is still down. You're not able to text message or SMS, or use any of the forms of communication that have allowed us to sort of keep track of what's going on. Certainly today, what I'm hearing from some of the people we've spoken to on the phone - from some of the activists - is that there are bodies that are turning up in some of the neighborhoods, in the far-lying neighborhoods in Cairo.

There apparently was a lot more violence yesterday than we even we saw here in Tahrir Square, which frankly reminded me of some of the films I've seen of Belfast. So it was pretty bad and apparently, only now the death toll and the number of people wounded is starting to come to light.

SIMON: What are soldiers doing?

SARHADDI NELSON: The soldiers are very relaxed. They're sitting on top of tanks. There's more of them coming in. They actually also have these personnel carriers in the tank. They're rolling in. There are many protesters standing on top with the soldiers, waving. It is amazing how receptive the crowd is to the army when you compare that to the way they were with the security forces yesterday. They are cheering them like - well, they're welcoming them like heroes.

(Soundbite of sirens)

SARHADDI NELSON: There are literally, 30 people on top of that armored personnel carrier that just drove by. There's a whole bunch of them coming in. This is a fire truck. There's a fire truck here. This is the first time we've seen it. I'm wondering if it's here to put out the fire at the National Democratic Party headquarters. Because there's fear - I should mention this - that their building is going to collapse, and it's right next to the National Museum. And you know, the fear is that there's going to be damage to the important artifacts there.

(Soundbite of siren)

SIMON: So Soraya, why are people cheering and crawling all over the tanks or armored personnel carriers? Are they certain the army's on their side?

SARHADDI NELSON: They are absolutely convinced of this. I'm not so sure yet because at this stage, the army is still being deployed by the government and by Mr. Mubarak. I mean, he's called them in to sort of replace the police who fled. So, it's unclear. But again, if you look at the body language of these officers, the way they have their guns pointed, they're very relaxed. They really do not seem to be in the mood to engage the public.

But they're also very serious. I mean, this is business. You know, when we tried talking to them, they certainly didn't want to talk to us. And they're here to preserve the peace, and preserve law and order. But again, the people feel - the people are treating them like heroes.

SIMON: Well - and I guess we'll see what happens when they're supposed to enforce the curfew.

SARHADDI NELSON: Exactly. That's, I think, going to be the telling point. Because if that curfew is in fact enforced in a violent way, then I think it'll be clear that the government is still in charge here.

SIMON: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Cairo. Thanks so much.

SARHADDI NELSON: You're welcome.

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