Egypt Smolders Amidst Protests

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Host Liane Hansen talks with NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro about the latest developments in the upheaval in Egypt. It's the largest protest movement in modern Egyptian history.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

The uprising in Egypt has entered its sixth straight day. Tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators are demanding the end of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's 29-year rule. Earlier today Air Force fighter planes and helicopters flew over a central square in Cairo in an increased show of military force.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro is in Cairo. Lourdes, you've been out today. What did you see?

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, I have to say, Liane, it's been an extraordinary day. We drove all over the city. And one of the first things that strikes you is that in many, many neighborhoods of the city - and you'll have to excuse me; there's a helicopter whirling overhead, so that's the sound you're hearing behind me - but in many neighborhoods of the city, young men, some with guns, others with sticks, others with machetes, are protecting the neighborhoods because they said they had a terrible night with gangs of marauding looters trying to come in.

And they're taking justice into their own hands because there is simply no police presence in many parts of the city. The Army is here but they are protecting pretty much only central locations or important buildings. They're not really widely available. And so citizens have simply come out and said, OK, we're going to take justice into our own hands; we're going to protect our families; we're going to protect our homes, and they seem to be doing just that.

HANSEN: And the protestors, what are they saying?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, the protests continue here. The protestors say that they will not stop their protests until Hosni Mubarak is gone. They seem very unappeased by the move yesterday to appoint a vice president and a prime minister; that vice president, Omar Suleiman, a very well-known figure here, head of intelligence.

But speaking to the protestors, they say it's not enough. They want him and his cronies gone. They say Omar Suleiman is two sides of the same coin. Interestingly, when you speak to them they don't know what they want. They're not rallying around a central figure. They're not saying, you know, this person or that person. They say we want free and fair elections and we want this man, Hosni Mubarak, to leave the country and leave us alone.

HANSEN: There have been reports of a prison break in western Egypt. Do you know anything about that?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, there's not only reports of that particular prison break but we're hearing that there's been several prison breaks. In fact, one eyewitness report from a fellow reporter who was at a prison here in Cairo said that the inmates had taken over. They were having a shootout with security forces on the outside. So, very chaotic scene. That's something that really is worrying the citizenry here, reports that criminals are getting out of the prison system and indeed would be contributing to the general sense of chaos here.

HANSEN: The U.S. State Department issued a travel alert, urging tourists to avoid Egypt because of the situation. The U.S. is also providing evacuation flights for American citizens. Are you talking to any tourists who are stranded there?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Absolutely. You know, we're staying at a hotel where there are many tourists. We spoke with a number of American tourists this morning. We spoke with a number of American tourists this morning. They were completely flabbergasted by the situation, basically sitting in the hotel in lockdown waiting to get out of the country. What we're hearing from the airport is that it is also extremely chaotic there, people trying to get out any way they can. Of course, flights overbooked, some flights being cancelled, you know, not coming into the country, people really, really wanting to get out of the situation.

They're not experiencing the Egypt that they were expecting, you know, the pharaohs and the Nile. Instead, as one tourist said to NPR, you know, revolution, it seems, is what this visit has been all about.

HANSEN: NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in Cairo. Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome.

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