Egyptians Vow To Press New Rulers For Reform

On the 19th day of Egypt's pro-democracy campaign, protesters shook off fatigue from a night of celebratory revelry to start cleaning up the mess they had made in Cairo's Tahrir Square. As they prepared to decamp, the country's new military rulers announced the former government of ousted President Hosni Mubarak would continue as a caretaker government until a new government could be formed. The statement drew mixed reactions from weary protesters.

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GUY RAZ, host:

From NPR News, this is Weekends on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.

There is a new face of a Middle Eastern revolutionary today. For decades, that face was often hidden behind a balaclava, a gun by his side, the person some would have described as a terrorist. But Egypt's 21st century revolutionaries never fire a shot. They didn't take to the hills and storm the cities with small alarms. They never planted a bomb, and they showed their face.

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Group #1: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)

RAZ: Now the fact that they won is all the more extraordinary; extraordinary in a country with an entrenched, all encompassing and invasive security apparatus, a place where state-sanctioned violence and detention without charge are regular features of life.

Now it seemed for a moment that their hopes were dashed on Thursday when a defiant President Hosni Mubarak announced he wasn't going anywhere.

Mr. HOSNI MUBARAK (Former Egyptian President): (Through translator) I cannot and will not accept to be dictated orders from outside no matter what the source is and no matter what the excuses or justifications are.

RAZ: But less than 24 hours later, it wasn't Hosni Mubarak Egyptians saw in television, but his newly appointed vice president with a new announcement.

Vice President OMAR SULEIMAN (Egypt): (Through translator) President Mohammed Hosni Mubarak has decided to waive the office of the president of the republic.

(Soundbite of cheers)

President BARACK OBAMA: This is the power of human dignity. And it can never be denied. Egyptians have inspired us.

RAZ: The revolution in Egypt is, of course, our cover story today. We'll hear what's next for Egypt's democracy movement, and later from an 80-year-old Egyptian writer and dissident who has been protesting since the 1940s on a day she never imagined would come.

But first to NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson with the latest from Cairo.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: It was business as usual here in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis without a protester or placard insight.

Mr. SHARIF ABDUL MONEIM: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: Sharif Abdul Moneim considers that a good thing. The motorcyclist, who delivers prescriptions for a local pharmacy, says he's glad the protesters got rid of Mubarak, but he's just as happy the protesters are gone now. Given the chaos, resulting curfew hurt his livelihood.

Mr. MONEIM: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: He says the protesters should give the military a chance to oversee the transition to a new government, at least until elections can be called.

Nearby, Heliopolis resident Hania Shlash isn't as keen to have the protesters stop.

Ms. HANIA SHLASH: They should stay there until all their legal points have to be achieved. But they have to be very peaceful. We have to show the world that we are peaceful country. We only ask for our rights, you know what I mean?

NELSON: How to ensure those rights aren't trampled by military coup and what's left of Mubarak's unpopular regime is a matter of some debate here in the Egyptian capital. With the old government still in charge and a stifling emergency law still in place, many question whether it's too soon for the uprising to end.

For their part, the Egyptian military and government are taking steps to show Egyptians they are serious about reform. Egyptian state television announced prosecutors are investigating the former prime minister, interior minister and information minister, who Mubarak socked earlier this month.

The network also reported the head of the Supreme Military Council Mohammed Tantawi met with Egypt's interior minister to discuss how to redeploy the national police force. Tantawi also met with the head of the constitutional court, prime minister and justice minister.

Unidentified Group #2: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: In Tahrir Square that has been the epicenter of the uprising, a small group of demonstrators continue to chant anti-government slogans. But fellow protester, Hisham Eid, believes it's time to take a break. The unemployed writer recites a poem he's written on a placard he's holding.

Mr. HISHAM EID: I am so proud I was here, not on the other side of deceit and fear. Let's go home, brother. It is enough and fair.

NELSON: Eid adds he may not be the best one to make that call, given that he was afraid to come out and join the movement at first. Another protester joins the conversation. His name is Abdel Refat and he's an education ministry worker who says in Arabic that he left his job to join the protesters on the first day they took to the streets last month. Eid offers to translate for him.

Mr. ABDEL REFAT: (Foreign language spoken)

Mr. EID: He was here from 25th. (Unintelligible).

NELSON: Eid kisses Refat on the forehead.

Mr. REFAT: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: Refat said he is willing to die to make Egypt a better place for his five children. He believes the protesters must continue their vigil in Tahrir Square until democracy takes hold here.

Fellow protester, Eid, translates for him again.

Mr. REFAT: (Through translator) Why not? Why not even if we die? Why not we stay?

NELSON: So he wants to stay and you want to go. Who is right?

Mr. EID: That's democracy. That's the new era.

NELSON: For now, most protesters are preparing to leave Tahrir Square. The stage from which their leaders led chants and entertainers played songs is being taken down. Volunteers sweep up the trash. Protest organizers say they hope to move out enough people from here so that the streets can be reopened as early as tomorrow. But they vowed to return weekly to keep up pressure on their new military government for reforms.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Cairo.

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