Egypt's Protesters Plan To Move Beyond Tahrir Square

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The massive demonstrations pushing for the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak are in their third week. A 30-year-old Google executive, who helped ignite the uprising, energized a cheering crowd with his first appearance in their midst after being released from 12 days in secret detention.


It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

Just yesterday, people were wondering if Egypt's government might be able to outwait the demonstrators on the streets of Cairo. Within hours, the government got a reminder that it could be a long wait.

INSKEEP: The largest demonstration yet took place in Cairo. Pro-democracy protests also broke out elsewhere in the country. It's been a largely leaderless uprising, but it has found an unexpected voice.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro was out among the protestors in Cairo today.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: A game-changing event is how one protestor described the effect of this interview with Wael Ghonim, the 30-year-old Google marketing executive and founder of a Facebook page that kick-started the pro-democracy movement here.

Sobbing, as the interviewer shows him the pictures of those that have been killed during the three-week uprising, Ghonim says...

Mr. WAEL GHONIM (Marketing Executive, Google): (Through Translator) I want to tell every mother and father that lost a son, I'm sorry but it's not our fault. I swear to God, it's not our fault. It's the fault of everyone who held on to power and clung to it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In many ways, he's both an unlikely leader and the perfect one. Educated and affluent, he was living outside of Egypt in the United Arab Emirates and he came back when the protests began last month. He's married to an American whom he met online.

He was arrested at the beginning of the protests and held for 12 days. Yesterday, he appeared in the square for the first time since then, to chants and cheers.

(Soundbite of chanting protestors)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In the few days it's been up, a Facebook page nominating him the leader of the pro-democracy forces has garnered at least 200,000 supporters.

Eighteen-year-old high school student Hanna Rahawi is impressed.

Ms. HANNA RAHAWI (Student): He made a huge difference. Everyone who was pro-Mubarak became, like, with us and they changed their minds. And he's very effective.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Did you feel like, you know, he could be a leader. Do you think you need one?

Ms. RAHAWI: I think so, yeah. Now, everyone's in Tahrir and they come -everyone has, like, different ideas and they want a leader. So I think this is a very suitable (unintelligible).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But what the effectively means remains to be seen. It's not clear he wants the mantel. And while some groups have engaged in talks with the government, the vast majority of those still out on the streets said they won't talk with the regime until Mubarak is gone.

And pro-democracy protestors have now expanded beyond Liberation Square.

So I'm standing in front of the parliament building and hundreds of people are now occupying this area. They put a sign in front of the shuttered gates that reads: Closed Until Further Notice, Until The Mubarak Regime Falls. And the idea behind this, they say, is that the protestors don't want to be corralled in Tahrir; they want to push themselves out to other areas of the city to keep the pressure on the Mubarak regime.

Mr. AHMED RAFAT (Protestor): I'm here. I'm not going to move anywhere else unless this regime, which hurt us a lot, and which caused a lot of damage, and which caused a lot of corruption - and all that you're seeing right now - if they're staying even for 40 years, I'm here the whole 40 years.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Twenty-eight-year-old Ahmed Rafat lost a close friend in the fighting with government forces on the 28th of January. He says Mubarak needs to be tried in court.

Mr. RAFAT: We need him to be judged. You know, I have a friend who was killed. This is enough for me to ask for a punishment.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But Mubarak shows no signs of leaving. Yesterday, Omar Suleiman, his vice president, met with state newspaper editors here and in comments broadcast on state TV said, quote, "We can't bear this for a long time. And there must be an end to this crisis as soon as possible." He said the regime wants dialogue with the protestors and added, quote, "We don't want to deal with Egyptian society with police tools."

Ahmed Rafat believes more blood will be shed. The protestors, he says, want to take their demonstration to the gates of Mubarak's Cairo palace next.

Mr. RAFAT: I think if we try to go there, it's going to take some blood. I don't think that this is going to be safe. But I'm going to be the first person to go there. If there is a move there, I'll be the first person to go.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: His friend chimes in.

Unidentified Man: All of us.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: They give each other a high-five...

(Soundbite of a clap)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...and smile.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Cairo.

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