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Despite Heat, Protesters Flood Cairo's Main Square

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Despite Heat, Protesters Flood Cairo's Main Square

Middle East

Despite Heat, Protesters Flood Cairo's Main Square

Despite Heat, Protesters Flood Cairo's Main Square

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/137709658/137709792" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Tens of thousands gathered at Cairo's Tahrir Square Friday amid growing frustration and anger in the streets over the military junta's failure to punish those responsible for violence during the revolution — and the slow pace of reform. NPR's Soraya Nelson talks to Michele Norris.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Tens of thousands of people rallied in Cairo and cities across Egypt today in the largest protests since the revolution that toppled the regime of President Hosni Mubarak almost five months ago.

Protestors flooded Cairo's main square despite the intense summer heat and humidity. Egyptian police and soldiers largely stayed away from the demonstrations during the day, but whether they'll allow protesters to continue their actions overnight as planned remains to be seen.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Cairo, where she covered the protests in Tahrir Square today, and she joins us now. Soraya, why are protestors back out protesting today?

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Well, they're increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of political reforms and the fact that no one from Mubarak's regime is being prosecuted.

Compare that to the fact that regular Egyptians or ordinary Egyptians are being tried in secret military tribunals that last maybe a day, and then they end up in prison for many years.

And if you add to that the fact that the police force has become a lot more brutal in its dealings with protestors as of late, this is all fueling people to turn out. One of the protestors I spoke to at the square was Huda, who expressed the frustration that so many here feel.

Ms. HUDA: The process is very slow, and we're all having doubts that justice is being served, and we would like to see justice served. And I'll be here until I see signs for that happening.

NELSON: She was among many protestors who plan to spend the night in Tahrir Square.

NORRIS: So she's looking for signs, Soraya. Are there any democratic reforms that have actually taken place since Mubarak was ousted?

NELSON: Well, certainly the military rulers who are in charge at the moment would say yes, that they've created laws for the establishment of political parties, which didn't exist before, or at least none other than the ruling party. They also held a constitutional referendum, which arguably was the most fair election that this country has seen in a very long while.

But everything they've done has more or less ensured that power will remain with the executive branch, with the future president. And this is not democratic in the eyes of many here.

NORRIS: Has there been any punishment for officials from Mubarak's regime who've been accused of corruption and theft or for those police officers accused of killing protestors?

NELSON: There's been none except for a death sentence for one police officer who was tried in absentia and who remains at large. By comparison, seven policemen implicated in the deaths of protestors were released a few days ago in Suez, which prompted riots there.

And then you have the former information and finance ministers under Mubarak who were acquitted of misusing public funds. All of this has many Egyptians worrying that Mubarak and his sons, too, are going to escape justice even in the unlikely chance that their trials go forward next month.

NORRIS: Is it likely that these protestors will achieve their objectives? How effective are these protests? And do you think they'll continue?

NELSON: They certainly will continue, and they do get the attention of the military rulers and the interim government. And the way we know this is that often a couple days before these protests, suddenly concessions will be made. People will be arrested, or there will be some sort of law passed or - all of it aimed at making protestors more satisfied, if you will.

But the problem is that many Egyptians are also getting really tired of protests. They want the country to get back to work. And at the same time, protestors who are spending all their time making demands are not spending any time creating political parties or offering up candidates in elections that are planned for later this year.

NORRIS: Soraya, thank you very much.

NELSON: You're welcome.

NORRIS: That's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, speaking to us from Cairo.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: This is NPR.

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