In Egypt, Signs Of Political Settlement
(Soundbite of music)
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
Sounds recorded of nearly two weeks of unrest in Egypt, and you're hearing a protest song performed in Tahrir Square this past week. Down, down, Hosni Mubarak, they're singing. He is to go. We are not going.
NPR's Corey Flintoff is in Cairo. I asked him what he saw today.
COREY FLINTOFF: The demonstration in Tahrir Square seems as big and almost jubilant as it was yesterday. They've even had appearances from some popular musicians, and there was a well-known Egyptian actress. But increasingly, I would say the demonstration seems to be coming from this giant sound system that the protesters have put up in the center of the square, and there are speeches and people leading chants and music.
But, you know, when you have a sound system, you gain control of the voice of the demonstration. And in that sense, it doesn't seem as organic as it did just a day or two ago.
WERTHEIMER: Have you been out in the rest of the city, the rest of Cairo?
FLINTOFF: Yes. We took a walk through some downtown neighborhoods today and you can see signs, actually, of what seems to be life returning to something like normal. The banks reopened for the first time today and people were able to use ATM machines, but there were limits, of course, on how much they could take out.
I was surprised. We stopped at several banks and the lines, really, were not that long. People told us that, you know, by and large, they'd been able to get food and necessities during the hours that curfews were lifted. So, and most people didn't seem that desperate to restock now that most of the stores are open.
WERTHEIMER: Corey, could you tell us about the negotiations that took place today? We understand that the negotiators put out a fairly detailed declaration of consensus, but that did not include any possibility that Mr. Mubarak might step down.
FLINTOFF: That's exactly right. After the talks, the vice president's office put out a news release, saying that they had reached consensus on a broad range of issues, including amendments to the constitution that would supposedly open up the political process. And that's key because regime opponents have feared that if the current constitutional restrictions remain in place, it meant that nobody could really challenge the political establishment in the elections.
The release also said that the government commits to free all political prisoners and liberalize the media. But so far, at least, the statement has been rebuffed by the leaders of the opposition in the square. And they say, of course, that it doesn't respond to their key demand, and that's that President Mubarak step down, and it's far too vague about the changes that they say are needed to set the country on a path to democracy.
WERTHEIMER: Corey, what about the role of the army in this? They've been in the background, always present. What are they doing?
FLINTOFF: Well, the vice president's message ended by saluting the role of the armed forces in maintaining order, but that's one thing that many of the people in the opposition are really deeply uneasy about. The vice president, the prime minister and a lot of the other top figures are all former military men. And opponents say that basically, the establishment and the military are essentially the same thing.
Incidentally, the Egyptian army's control over the access points of the square seems stronger than ever today. Apparently, the army tried to remove some of the protesters' makeshift barriers today, but the demonstrators refused to let them do that. But, you know, there's a sense that, you know, the army now controls all the access points, and essentially they're allowing the demonstration to take places, but that - they could shut it down any time they wanted to.
WERTHEIMER: NPR's Corey Flintoff reporting from Cairo.
Corey, thank you.
FLINTOFF: Thank you, Linda.
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