Egypt's Center Becomes A Mini-City

Cairo's Tahrir Square has become a community in and of itself. A leaderless group has organized the area, with an armory, a hospital, food and water delivery, even sanitation. The anti-Mubarak protesters have taken to calling the area "Free Cairo" as the protests enter their 11th day.

Scott Simon, host:

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

The standoff in Egypt continues. Despite mounting international pressure, President Hosni Mubarak has not stepped down. Saturday morning in Cairo saw long lines of Egyptians waiting to get into Tahrir Square a day after the large protest in Cairo, demanding the embattled leader's resignation.

If anything, inside the square it seems as if pro-democracy forces are entrenching. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro takes us on a tour of what's being called by some protestors, free Cairo.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tahrir Square has the feel of the breakaway republic. The area now has a border marked with barbed wire and a makeshift barricade. The military guards it, and you need an ID to get in. There are rows of pro-democracy activists doing thorough body searches, making sure no one is bringing in weapons.

And once you are inside the square, unlike the chaotic streets of wider Cairo where bands of thugs have been attacking journalists, the cry of welcome, welcome rings. Thirty-eight year old Rajia Omran says people here are trying to be deliberately civil.

Ms. RAJIA OMRAN: I want to tell you that the best thing coming out of this is that I think there was a barrier between people in Egypt and it's been broken. I mean, I think there really is a sense of community and that we are Egyptian. This is the first time people really unite and show that when they want to do something they can do it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Anything potentially divisive is censored. That includes foul language and religious slogans. And the square is becoming well organized. A makeshift clinic inside a mosque is now running smoothly.

(Soundbite of foreign language)

Dr. ILLHAM AL-SAMAHI: We have rota here, we have rota here. Ten to four, one to four, four to seven. We have here scheduling.

GARCIA-NAVARRA: Fifty-eight year old Dr. Illham al-Samahi is on intensive care duty she says. Another doctor makes sure everyone is at their station. Medical supplies, be is saline solution, bandages, or iodine, have been flooding in through donations. Dr. Islam Abdul-Rahman has been telling his friends on Facebook at Twitter that this is the embryo of new nation.

Dr. ISLAM ABDUL-RAHMAN: This is free Cairo, yes, yes. Here - there's no fear from anybody. There is organization. Everybody here is with each other. All this we have missing for decades outside this square.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Elsewhere in the square there's a place to collect water. Democracy protestors have punctured a small hole in one of the water pipelines. People recharge their cell phones at the Egypt Air office.

And there's also a kind of armory. Mid-week violent clashes broke out between pro- and anti-Mubarak forces. A group of people smashes up paving stones and loads them into a container in case they are needed for defense. They even fashioned a catapult.

After ten days of holding Tahrir Square, people are exhausted. One of the only things that's lacking is a place to sleep. And so wherever people aren't actually walking, they are laying down under makeshift tents, underneath the shade of trees trying to catch a nap to regroup, to recover, because they say they will remain.

Mr. AHMED SHARQAWI: We know that they are very keen to push us out of this square, but we will not - we will never do.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ahmed Sharqawi says we will fight here until President Mubarak goes.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Cairo

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