Youth Leaders May Keep Egyptian Protests Going
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.
Some of Egypt's opposition groups are now talking with the government. Others still insist on doing their talking in the streets.
MONTAGNE: Egypt's new vice president, Omar Suleiman held a meeting over the weekend. He welcomed his opponents to talk about what happens next in their country.
INSKEEP: Leaders of the youth movement that led the street protests dismissed that meeting. They say they will escalate their activities if their demands are not met.
NPR's Eric Westervelt has the latest from Cairo.
ERIC WESTERVELT: Leading political opposition figures said the meeting with Vice President Suleiman was positive but marked only a small step. The government offered new concessions, including promises to lift restrictions on the media and to release detained protesters.
Members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood attended - something unthinkable just two weeks ago. But the Islamist group afterward said the meeting did not advance our demands. And not represented at the gathering were key players who sparked this revolt - the disparate youth movements that used social media and tech-savvy to challenge Mubarak's rule.
Youth leader Ahmed Maher...
Mr. AHMED MAHER (Co-founder, April 6 Youth Movement): (Foreign language spoken)
WESTERVELT: Any young people now talking with Omar Suleiman or anyone else in the government doesn't represent the youth groups that called for the January 25th revolt, Maher said. We are all united on this, he added - no negotiations before Mubarak's departure.
The youth movement leadership Sunday said they were joining forces to try to present a united front. Thirty-year-old lawyer Ziad Al Alamy said protests will continue and organizers may try to expand and change strategy.
Mr. ZIAD Al ALAMY (Attorney): We'll change the tactics. We'll change the places that we'll demonstrate on. We will change our movement. We'll change all of these things.
WESTERVELT: So you're ready to do more than just hold a sit-in in Tahrir square?
Mr. AL ALAMY: We are thinking about it now.
WESTERVELT: The group reiterated calls for other unprecedented changes, including the dissolution of parliament, the creation of an interim national unity government, the release of political prisoners, and an immediate lifting of the state of emergency. That decree, in place since 1981, has given the Mubarak regime sweeping powers to stifle dissent and arrest activists, practices that continue today.
Scores of protesters, human rights activists, and journalists have been taken in to secrete police and military intelligence custody in the last two weeks.
Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Right Watch, says several of his colleagues were recently detained and interrogated at an unknown military intelligence camp on the outskirts of Cairo.
Mr. PETER BOUCKAERT (Human Right Watch): They could hear the screams of other people who were being beaten and tortured at the center. That's the way the Egyptian security services operates, and it's very brutal
WESTERVELT: Bouckaert points out that protesters deeply distrust Suleiman, the man the West appears to be backing as a transitional figure. They see the long-time intelligence chief as a key player in Mubarak's authoritarian system.
Mr. BOUCKAERT: He's a person who has a long history of involvement in repression and human rights abuses, including torture. He was the point person for the rendition program during Bush administration, where people were handed over to the CIA. He is not the kind a person that the people out in the street today want to see in power.
WESTERVELT: Among the many still in Egyptian custody is activist and senior Middle East Google executive, Wael Ghonim. His high-tech and social media expertise helped organize the mass anti-government demonstrations. He disappeared January 28th.
Egyptian analyst Hisham Kassem is skeptical that Suleiman-led talks with some of the opposition will lead anywhere, until Mubarak steps down. Kassem sees a protracted stalemate ahead as the regime digs in.
Mr. HISHAM KASSEM (Political Analyst): I think Mubarak is in denial. Mubarak is too old to learn anything new. He doesn't realize that it's over for him. The only way he can restore power is a brutal crackdown, and I don't think even the military will do that. So it's a dead end: He steps down or he disperses this crowd.
(Soundbite of crowd)
WESTERVELT: The still sizeable crowd in Tahrir Square is digging in as well. Some banks, schools and offices are re-opening, but protesters today formed a human chain at the entrance to a government building next to the square. They said there would be no government business as usual, until Mubarak goes.
Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Cairo.
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