Founder Of Egypt's April 6 Movement Weighs In

The protests that brought about the downfall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak were by no means spontaneous. They were weeks, months, even years in the making, says Ahmed Maher, a 30-year-old civil engineer who helped organize the April 6th Youth Movement as well as the demonstrations that toppled the Mubarak regime.

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

The protests that brought down Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak were by no means spontaneous. They were weeks, months, even years in the making. That's according to one of the young men who helped organized the demonstrations. Ahmed Maher is a founder of the influential April 6th Youth Movement.

Now that Egypt's military is in control, his group has been communicating with the country's ruling Supreme Military Council to try to make sure protesters' demands are met. I asked Maher through an interpreter, what specifically he's been promised by the military leaders and when?

AHMED MAHER: (Through Translator) Well, they said that they need time, that the government institutions need to start again, and that will take some time. We told them that we're concerned about people who are in jail, but they said that they need, you know, a few days or so. And then, we also told them that we want the constitution addressed.

There will be demonstrations again on Friday, and in the meantime, there will be communication. The people will see if they don't want to get - if we don't get what we're promised, then we can go back and demonstrate. And we've called for a demonstration - or there is a call for a demonstration for millions to come out again.

So regarding the constitution, they said that they will begin organizing, that they will put together a committee. They said they will look into the situation of political prisoners who were detained before and after the January 25th revolution.

BLOCK: You mentioned prisoners. You're talking about the thousands of political prisoners who you want freed?

MAHER: (Through Translator) We're referring to those who were arrested after January 25th and the ones who were arrested before that date. All those who were arrested after the 25th should be released immediately. As for those who were arrested before, there's a due process that we understand there has to take place, and it has to be looked at on a case-by-case basis. But eventually, we'd like to see all of the political prisoners released.

BLOCK: What about the lifting of emergency law? What have they told you about a timetable for that?

MAHER: (Through Translator) We understand that they want to cancel it as well, but they've asked for more from the police to go back to the streets to restore order. There are some people who escaped from the prisons, and they need to be found and returned to the jails.

The security needs to return to the streets of Egypt. The military promised that once there is no need for the streets to be insecure, then we can cancel or they can cancel the emergency law. So this will, hopefully, happen as soon as possible. And we will continue to meet with them. And then, hopefully, I will decide how to act.

BLOCK: How much faith do you have, Mr. Maher, in the goodwill and the intention of the military leaders to do these things that you're spelling out, lift emergency law, free the political prisoners, rewrite the constitution?

MAHER: (Through Translator) Number one, we consider the army to be different from the Mubarak regime, and number two, we respect the army a lot here in Egypt. And number three, if we don't get what we want in the quickest time possible, the street is here, and we will use it.

BLOCK: There are protesters right now who are staying in Tahrir Square saying that they'll stay there until reforms are put into place. What are you telling your followers in the April 6th Movement? Should they keep protesting?

MAHER: (Through Translator) Those who are demonstrating have their own issues. We made the decision not to demonstrate while we wait for a response to our demands. We can always go back to the street. They have been given the opportunity of four days. We met with them. It was good. But if they don't meet our demands, we'll take to the streets again.

BLOCK: Have you given them a deadline of this Friday?

MAHER: (Through Translator) There will be another meeting in the next couple of days. We expect some announcements from them regarding our demands. We're waiting to see if they'll act and what their plans are. So we will see.

BLOCK: Since the protests on the streets in Egypt, in the last week, have you been in touch with other youth movements that are looking at what happened in Egypt and saying: I'd like to do that in my country. What do I need to do?

MAHER: (Through Translator) Yes, yes, there are a lot. After what happened in Tunisia, there are a lot of activity. We talked a lot about what we were doing. We congratulated those in Tunisia, and they in turn also did the same with us.

We talk with everyone in Algeria and Morocco to give them our experience and our knowledge.

BLOCK: Do you expect that what we've seen happen now in Tunisia and in Egypt will be repeated, that we will see other autocrats fall, that there will be other regime change?

MAHER: (Through Translator) Of course. What happened in Egypt and Tunisia will happen elsewhere: Algeria, Morocco, Jordan and Yemen, all those countries with autocrats, hopefully they will have democracy. We are watching them all move forward with this important work.

BLOCK: Ahmed Maher, thank you very much for talking with us.

MAHER: Thank you.

BLOCK: Ahmed Maher is a 30-year-old civil engineer in Cairo. He's a leader of the April 6th Youth Movement, one of the organizers of the demonstrations that toppled the regime of President Hosni Mubarak. A special thanks to our interpreters, NPR's Jamie Tarabay and Adel Iskandar, a lecturer in Arab media at Georgetown University.

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