Amid Cleanup, Egyptian Protesters Plan Reunion

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Egyptian demonstrators are cleaning up their mess after spending 19 days in Tahrir Square. They are also planning new, weekly demonstrations to keep up the pressure for reforms.

AUDIE CORNISH, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish in for Liane Hansen.

Egypt's military-led government has dissolved the country's parliament and suspended its constitution. It's trying to reassure the world that it's committed to a transition to a democratically-elected civilian government. Meanwhile, youth leaders of the protest movement, for their part, are working to carefully pressure the military to make good on its pledge.

From Cairo, NPR's Eric Westervelt reports.

ERIC WESTERVELT: The military in another communique, as it calls its announcements, said today they would rule for the next half year or until elections were held, and that they had moved to dissolve both houses of parliament. The military also said it forming a committee to amend the constitution and set the rules for a popular vote to endorse those amendments.

The army's statement met several of the key demands by the coalition of five youth protest groups, which formed the organizational backbone of the anti-Mubarak movement.

Dr. Sally Moore, with the coalition says they're very pleased with today's announcement.

Dr. SALLY MOORE (Physician): I think so far they have shown goodwill. This doesn't mean that the coalition or (unintelligible) in general, or Egyptians we want an army state, of course not. I think the army was clear, they will ensure a transition into a proper, civil state.

WESTERVELT: Moore added that the six month timeframe until new elections is a good guarantee and one that could be extended, if needed.

The military this weekend also pledged to honor all of Egypt's treaties, which includes the landmark 1979 peace agreement with Israel.

The youth coalition still wants the military to move expeditiously to lift the state of emergency that's been in place for nearly 30 years. (Soundbite of crowd)

Mr. BASSEM KAMEL (Protest Organizer): We trust the army, but not 100 percent.

WESTERVELT: Protest organizer Bassem Kamel is with Nobel Laureate Mohammed Elbaradei's political movement. He said the youth coalition is calling for a rally next Friday to celebrate Mubarak's ouster, honor those killed in the revolt and, importantly, remind the military of the movement's strength.

Mr. KAMEL: If the army goes in our way, so it will be a ceremony and celebrate with our victory. But if they will not do what we want, will be a collection for the people again to stay in Tahrir Square and to start our work again.

WESTERVELT: Kamel said so far there'd been only tentative contacts with the military through an intermediary but that they expect more formal dialogue soon.

Any channel of communication between the military and protest leaders is likely to take time. There are cultural, generational and political gaps to bridge.

Mr. MAHMOUD SABIT (Political Analyst/Historian): There are a lot of ghosts in the past, but we don't necessarily want to be haunted by those ghosts of the military interfering in the political process.

WESTERVELT: That's Egyptian analyst and historian Mahmoud Sabit. He says although the military commanders in charge are more used to a monologue, he thinks they are sincere about opening a dialogue and eventually handing off to civilian control.

Mr. SABIT: We all came face to face with the precipice of anarchy in the last few days. We came close. They came close and so did the street. No one really wants to go there again. Well, I think everyone is united in that opinion.

WESTERVELT: Meantime, a small army of volunteers with brooms continued to sweep up debris and paint over graffiti, acts both practical and they say symbolic of their desire to rebuild a better Egypt after Mubarak.

(Soundbite of protestors)

WESTERVELT: Also today, several hundred disgruntled policemen made a surprise appearance in the square that was the epicenter of the movement that toppled the dictator.

(Soundbite of protestors)

WESTERVELT: The police in Egypt have long been seen as the enforcers of the regime. But right now there is an extraordinary scene where police have just marched into Tahrir Square, shouting the police and the people are one and people are cheering them, taking pictures.

(Soundbite of a crowd)

WESTERVELT: It was the first time police have been seen in any numbers since they lost control of the protests and disappeared from the streets nearly two weeks ago, in a still unexplained move that only worsened the political crisis. It was telling that today that the police didn't stick around the square. They marched through, complained about wages and most just kept on walking.

Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Cairo.

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