Egyptian Protesters Expand Their Reach

Tens of thousands of protesters poured into Cairo's Tahrir Square on Tuesday — and areas around it — in one of the largest demonstrations to date against the regime of President Hosni Mubarak. Many were inspired by the release of an activist and Middle East Google executive who'd been detained and blindfolded for almost two weeks by the Egyptian security services.

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Masses of protesters poured into and around Cairo's Tahrir Square today. It was one of the largest demonstrations to date against the regime of President Hosni Mubarak.

As NPR's Eric Westervelt reports, many of today's protesters were inspired by the release of one man, an activist and Google executive who'd been detained by the Egyptian security services for almost two weeks.

ERIC WESTERVELT: Ahead of today's demonstration, a massive line of protesters entering Tahrir Square snaked for hundreds of yards around side streets. And for the first time, thousands more gathered in front of parliament. Protester Dr. Galal Galdet(ph) said after several days of the army trying to hem in the protesters in the square, it was time to expand.

Dr. GALAL GALDET (Protester): They were trying to contain the revolution and turn the Tahrir Square into a Hyde Park. Now we're talking about moving this from Tahrir to all squares in Egypt. By Friday, it's going to be all over Egypt. We have a new hope.

WESTERVELT: Soldiers with fixed bayonets on their AK47 rifles stood tensely nearby but did not stop the protesters from reaching parliament. As night fell, protesters set up to spend the night there. School teacher Walid Asham(ph) said maybe Mubarak didn't get the message from Tahrir and thought he could just wait them out.

Mr. WALID ASHAM (Teacher): Because if we stay in Tahrir Square, there's no benefits. Mubarak is like stone. So, what to do? Mubarak doesn't get it. It isn't for just himself.

(Soundbite of protest)

WESTERVELT: During today's festive protest in the square, some chanted Wael, in reference to Wael Ghonim, the 30-year-old Google marketing manager who helped organize the initial online campaign that sparked the first mass protest on January 25th. He was released last night after being held blindfolded and incommunicado for 12 days by Egyptian security forces.

Afterwards, he gave an emotional interview to a private Egyptian TV station, lamenting those killed in the protest and calling for Mubarak to go. One protester, 28-year-old biologist Ahmed El Drubi(ph), says Ghonim's case puts a face to the police state repression and humiliation Egyptians have lived with for three decades.

Mr. AHMED EL DRUBI (Biologist): It was very touching. He's just one of hundreds of thousands of people that have been tortured by the regime, illegally abducted and detained for long periods of time.

WESTERVELT: If the regime thought Ghonim's arrest would help stop the protests, the move badly backfired. He is now the new inspiration for the movement. Ghonim visited Tahrir Square today and was welcomed with cheers and applause when he declared: We won't abandon our demand, the departure of the regime.

(Soundbite of protest)

WESTERVELT: The decision to demonstrate outside parliament, for the protesters, a symbol of corruption and political impotence underscored the resilience and renewed momentum of the street protests. Again, Ahmed El Drubi.

Mr. EL DRUBI: I want the corruption to stop. I want the theft to stop. And therefore, standing here in front of this parliament and stating that it is corrupt and fraud is the greatest measure we can deliver to this regime when asking it to leave.

Mr. FAWAZ GERGES (Middle East Analyst): The new tactics show very clearly that they are willing, the protesters are willing to escalate and to go all the way.

WESTERVELT: Middle East analyst Fawaz Gerges sees today's actions as significant. They send Mubarak a loud and clear message that digging in and trying to ride out the storm of street protests will be resisted.

Mr. GERGES: I think the Mubarak regime now is put on notice that time is not on his side, that the protesters are as determined as ever to basically push forward their fundamental goal to force President Mubarak out and to reconstruct the entire political system.

WESTERVELT: There were also sizeable anti-government protests today in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura and also in Ismailia on the banks of the Suez Canal. In Suez city, several thousand young people protested outside a gas company demanding jobs. And there were strikes there by some 3,000 workers at other companies. Reporters trying to reach Suez today were prevented from entering the city by the Egyptian military.

Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Cairo.

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