Middle East

Egyptian Government Warns Protests Must Stop

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Strikes erupted across Egypt Wednesday as thousands of state workers and others demand better pay, benefits and working conditions. Egypt's new vice President Omar Suleiman warned that the protests must end.


Thousands of workers are now on strike in support of Egypt's protests. Textile, steel, and hospital workers in Egypt walked out yesterday. They did this even as the country's new vice president warned that the protests must end. We're going, next, to the center of the protesting, Tahrir Square in Cairo. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro is there. And Lourdes, does anybody seem afraid of a crackdown?

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: There certainly is fear of a crackdown. I mean, people are following very closely what the government is saying, and the implicit warning in what the vice president Omar Suleiman and also the foreign minister said yesterday in comments, really does have people quite worried.

The other thing is there's also discussion that a stealthy crackdown is already taking place. There have been allegations that the army, which up until now people have said has remained neutral, has been harassing protesters. There have been allegations that they are torturing some of the protesters, people who have been trying to get in supplies to the square have disappeared, only to reemerge later with allegations that they have been mistreated by the army.

So there is a lot of fear at the moment about what will happen, but also, they are very determined that tomorrow another large protest has been called and they say there will be a huge turnout and they will remain here no matter what.

INSKEEP: Interesting that you say bringing supplies to the square, at least trying to do it. How is it that people are eating, living, sleeping, organizing an economy practically in order to support themselves on the square, day after day?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Steve, it's an extraordinary scene. I'm standing, right now, in the middle of Tahrir Square, and it's a kind of a cross between a fairground and a memorial. Right next to me is an enormous tent city that's developed, plastic sheeting, people basically camping out, staying here pretty much around the clock. And then you also have sort of stages of people singing, playing guitar. And then you have the memorial side of this. There's some very gory pictures of the many people that were killed during this protest and people light candles and keep vigils for them. So it's kind of an odd mixture.

INSKEEP: This is so organized that it makes me think again that perhaps we're wrong to call this a leaderless revolution, which is the way it has been described. Is there some political organization that's become clear over time?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I certainly think that there has been some political organization over time. I mean we've seen Wael Ghonim, the Google executive, emerge, certainly, as a very strong figure. He really does represent the young people who started this Internet uprising, as it's being termed. And then of course there are other more established political groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, like the Wafd Party, who are also having their say in this.

But for the moment, I have to make this perfectly clear, all this talk of negotiations with the government, certainly we've seen a little bit of that, but most of the people say they will not talk with the government until Hosni Mubarak is gone, and there is no sign of that happening. We're hearing from high-level diplomatic sources that it seems Hosni Mubarak is still holding the reins of power very tightly, even though we see Vice President Omar Suleiman on the television, his foreign minister speaking, it is still Hosni Mubarak who is calling the shots here in Egypt.

INSKEEP: You mentioned the Muslim Brotherhood and also mentioned more secular leaders like the Google executive. Do the different groups have different portions of the square? Are their supporters all mixed together? How are they - how do they relate on the ground?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There is different real estate owned by different groups, certainly. People have set up different squares. The Muslim Brotherhood has a certain part of the square which they have set up a stage and have their people talking. There's a more, kind of secular, young group.

But people do mingle. And one of the extraordinary things you really see here is you see little clusters of people talking to each other and there is a great deal of organization. There's street-sweepers, there's garbage collectors. We are seeing a little mini city evolve. They've even brought in urban planners to sort it all out.

INSKEEP: Urban planners? NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro is in Tahrir Square in Cairo. Lourdes, thanks very much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome.

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