Tensions Run High In Post-Mubarak Egypt

A new government commissioned report in Egypt finds that more than 800 protesters were killed during the country's 18 day uprising. The government may be addressing the abuses of the former regime, but allegations remain of unfair imprisonment by the military. Host Michel Martin discusses the state of post-Mubarak Egypt with NPR correspondent, Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, we speak with one of the Arab world's most popular writers, Alaa Al Aswany. He was a strong advocate for the ouster of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Now in a new book of essays, Al Aswany reflects on the revolution, which he says was inevitable. We'll have that conversation in just a few minutes.

But, first, the protests in Egypt have forced out President Mubarak, but many conflicts continue, sometimes violently. We wanted to know more about what's happening in the post-Mubarak era, so we've called upon NPR foreign correspondent, Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson. She covers the Middle East and North Africa. And she's with us now from Cairo. Soraya, thank you so much for joining us.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: You're welcome. My pleasure.

MARTIN: Now, a new government report was released this week. It sheds light on the human toll of the rebellion. The report says that more 800 protesters were killed in the uprising. And I was wondering how this report is being received, if people are saying that's terrible or are they saying, well, in light of what we accomplished, it's the price that we had to pay? What are people saying about this?

NELSON: Well, I think people, first off, are happy that the government is now starting to acknowledge the real human toll of this revolution or of this popular uprising. I mean, this number is more than twice the number that the government had acknowledged, early on. And not only did they acknowledge that these many people were killed, but they also talked about the methods. The fact that the police were taking aim. That a lot of these people who were killed were shot in the eye or shot in the head and shot in the chest - at point blank range, basically, with live ammunition.

And so it's something that really shows the determination with which the previous regime wanted to suppress this and prevent the toppling that eventually occurred.

MARTIN: So is there a sense that this, perhaps, indicates a new transparency about the way the government proceeds?

NELSON: Well, certainly the younger people are taking this with a huge grain of salt. The government is starting to bow to the pressure a little bit. There's been continuous protesting that's gone on in Tahrir Square, which of course is the main focal point for this revolution here in Cairo. As a result, there seem to be steps that are being taken by this government to try and get people to calm down a little bit.

MARTIN: Aren't there allegations of the military, which heads the interim government, is still targeting or trying to suppress, you know, political dissent? Wasn't a popular blogger recently sentenced to some three years in prison for speaking out against the military?

NELSON: Absolutely. That was a very chilling development. Michael Nabil Sanad was a blogger who - his crime was basically saying that the army was not one with the people. They were not one hand, that's the expression that was used in Arabic. And they sentenced him to three years. He could've received six, so I guess in one sense, it was less.

But it showed a light on something that's very problematic here, which is that the military is basically prosecuting people not just for political thought, but also for crimes. I mean, they've sort of taken over law enforcement and the justice system. I mean, the civilian court is empty. And so this is a problem that people here are very concerned about.

MARTIN: And, finally, I wanted to ask you about some of the sectarian and sort of other fissures that we see emerging in the Egyptian society. For example, in southern Egypt, there, Islamic militants are protesting the new Christian governor in Qena - which is near Luxor, which I think many people who were -you know, a lot of tourists will have been to. What's going on there? I mean, the Christian governor here isn't new. The previous governor was also Christian, so what's going on here now?

NELSON: Well, what you have is an emergence of Islamic hardliners. In this particular case, they're called Salafis. And while the Salafis themselves claim they're not an organized movement, some people feel they're in cahoots with the government basically trying to show that the revolution was a bad thing. But then there are others who think that this is just a sign that there's nobody in charge here.

And so what's happening in Qena at the moment is that they're taken over streets, they're surrounding government buildings and no one is stopping them from doing this. And they are - even though they claim the reason they don't want this Christian governor there is because he was a police officer, a police official in the old regime and they don't want the old regime in charge anymore. The chants, certainly, and the slogans that are on the street, call for an Islamic governor to be appointed.

MARTIN: NPR foreign correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson covers the Middle East and North Africa. She was with us from Cairo. Soraya, thank you so much for joining us. Thank you for your work.

NELSON: Thank you. You're welcome.

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