Mubarak Tries To Outlast Critics On The Streets

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Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's government is trying to promote a return to normal life in Cairo. State TV is showing images of a cabinet meeting and there's talk of a pay hike for government workers. That leaves it to protesters to keep up the pressure.

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Good morning. Let's go next to Egypt, where President Hosni Mubarak may be maneuvering to outlast his critics on the streets. The Mubarak government is trying to promote a return to normal life. State TV is showing images of a cabinet meeting and talk of a pay hike for government workers, and that leaves it to protesters to keep up the pressure if they can.

Joining us now from Cairo's Tahrir Square is NPR's Eric Westervelt.

And Eric, how long can they keep it up?

ERIC WESTERVELT: Well, protesters say they can keep it up, that they've got the determination and the will to keep it up, but certainly as now we're entering the third week, Steve, of protests, the key question is, can they keep the momentum up, can they keep the crowds coming in? It's become something of a tent city in here. There's some services, makeshift medical facilities, tents and food and the like. But can they keep the daily numbers going? So far, yes, they've called for another big gathering today and they're getting a big turnout. The square, once again, is filling up, and then they say again on Friday they want another big turnout, and there are really no signs that the movement is weakening. On the other side, the government is trying to portray, as you said, sort of business as usual, that, you know, look, Mubarak is a stabilizing force, they're trying portray, that much that he can help guide this country to a new phase, an idea that protesters continue to reject outright.

INSKEEP: A couple of numbers are pretty startling and suggests the power that the government can try to bring to bear. A fifteen percent pay raise is being offered to the country's roughly six million public workers. That's a lot of people to try to get on your side all at once.

WESTERVELT: That's right. They've made serial attempts, the Mubarak government, to try to sort of turn the public against the demonstrators and really in some ways to divide the protest movement, by talking to some factions, offering some concessions, and here is in many ways another attempt and a pretty powerful one, money on the table, saying as of now public workers, a huge part of the workforce across Egypt, you know, are getting a sizeable pay raise - in many ways a way the Mubarak regime is trying to say remember where your loyalties are, remember who really is still in charge.

INSKEEP: Well, I know you've been talking, Eric Westervelt, with people in Tahrir Square and also around it, outside it. What is your sense of where the public is headed right now?

WESTERVELT: I think outside the square there is an ongoing concern that they want things to try to return to normal. The country's economy has been ravaged. Banks remain semi-open. Some businesses have not fully reopened. The stock market has not reopened. There are still tanks on the streets, soldiers, military checkpoints. Life has not returned to normal, despite the best efforts by state TV to sort of portray things otherwise. And I think there is, outside the square, you know, the public saying even those who support the protest movement and want democratic change here, that look, we do have to get on and get back and rebuild the economy. The tourist trade has been ravaged and other aspects of the economy. So I think there are some divisions there.

INSKEEP: Well, I wonder if there are any lessons that people try to draw from Tunisia, where I know you have also been in recent days, Eric Westervelt, because in Tunisia it took a lot more than a couple of weeks to get out the dictator there.

WESTERVELT: That's right. It's an important reminder that it was more than a month of across the country daily protests and demonstrations in Tunisia that finally sort of led the government to make swift and dramatic changes that dictator Ben Ali fled, and really the majority of his cronies left and collapsed and were arrested as well. I think Egyptians are looking to Tunisia, and many of them certainly in the square, Steve, know that this is going to take time, this is going to take a lot of ongoing effort.

INSKEEP: If it's going to work at all. NPR's Eric Westervelt is in Cairo.

Eric, thanks very much.

WESTERVELT: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: And let's listen to one of the protesters that Eric has been talking to today in Tahrir Square. His name is Mustaffa Kayat(ph).

MUSTAFFA KAYAT: We want a power. We want (unintelligible) and Mubarak to leave us. As long as he's staying here, everything is going to come back like it was before, the 25th of January.

INSKEEP: The 25th of January. That's the day the protests began, which are still continuing in Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt.

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