Violent Protests Rock Egyptian City Of Alexandria

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The coastal city of Alexandria has been the scene of some of the most violent clashes since the protests began. Host Michele Norris speaks to Souad Mekhennet, special correspondent for The New York Times, who has been covering the unrest in Alexandria.


We turn now to the coastal city of Alexandria, the scene of some of the most violent clashes since the protests began. Souad Mekhennet is a special correspondent for The New York Times, and she's been covering the unrest in Alexandria. She joins us now.

What's going on right now in Alexandria, and why have the protests in this city, in particular, turned so violent?

Ms. SOUAD MEKHENNET (Correspondent, The New York Times): Well, right now, Michele, we see thousands of people, mostly young people, here in the street in Alexandria. It's after curfew and it's already dark, but they are still protesting, and many of them are intending to spend the night here on the streets because they say that they have the feeling the president did not get the message, which is not to change the government but to step down.

NORRIS: Today, there have been reports of heavy machinegun fire. What's going on there?

Ms. MEKHENNET: Well, actually, what happened is that in some areas when - and we actually witnessed one of these situations - when a group of people in each neighborhood and they are marching and trying to keep the neighborhoods safe. These are young men with knives or sticks and trying to stop people when they have the feeling someone is a thief or someone is trying to create problems. So if this person doesn't stop and they call for the army, which is somewhere nearby, then the army starts basically shooting in the air.

NORRIS: There are reports of shortages of all kinds. There are reports that pregnant women are unable to get to hospitals, that there have been problems with waste collection. And Alexandria is also Egypt's largest port, and I guess containers and ships are now backing up there. Food prices have more than doubled. How have these continued protests started to affect everyday life in the city?

Ms. MEKHENNET: Actually, today is also the, you know, the day where most of the people were supposed to get their salaries, and all the banks are closed. People don't know how to get cash. So there's a shortage, actually, also in money. You know, schools are closed down. And as you mentioned, the prices have doubled. There is a shortage in gasoline. There are so many people now standing in front of bakeries to get bread.

And, you know, many people who are out there told us, we are aware of the fact that we will have to pay a price for this, and we are ready to eat even just twice a day and maybe even just eat beans and rice on -maybe even just a piece of bread, but still, we think it's worth it. We will march.

NORRIS: What's expected for Tuesday when protesters are calling for a march of a million?

Ms. MEKHENNET: Well, here in Alexandria, all the organizations have said that they called people from the neighboring cities, smaller cities, to come and march, and there are talks about the possibility of also sleeping on the street. So tomorrow, of course, it's going to be one of the most important days for all these - especially young people.

And by the way, there are also women out there. And what we've seen in Alexandria is that from day to day, there are more women marching with all these protesters.

NORRIS: In that culture, what does it mean that this many women have taken to the streets and have joined the protesters?

Ms. MEKHENNET: It actually does mean a lot. I mean, in the past, I myself, I interviewed many women who said, you know, we never took part in the demonstration. And all the organizations made very clear, they said this is a protest of all Egyptians - women and men - and everyone should have the right to walk and march.

You know, there's one thing actually that was very interesting which most of the protesters told us that they're very unhappy with the position of Western countries because they said, look, we have heard the speech of President Obama when he came to Cairo and he spoke about change and he spoke about starting a new chapter with the Arab world.

And they say, well, we want a change in our country, and this is why we are protesting. And now, the problem is that we have the feeling it's -the Obama administration and also some other Western countries who are basically backing Mubarak, who are not on our side. So they're very angry, and they have this feeling to mobilize more people so that their voice and their message should also be heard.

NORRIS: Souad Mekhennet, thank you very much for speaking with us.

Ms. MEKHENNET: You're welcome.

NORRIS: Souad Mekhennet is a special correspondent for The New York Times. We spoke to her from Alexandria.

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