Egyptians Discuss Burgeoning Crisis

With violence continuing around Tahrir Square and no sign of a solution to the confrontation between the protesters and Egypt's military rulers, ordinary Egyptians talk about their views on the burgeoning crisis.

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

In Cairo, security forces had begun a major push to move protesters away from a street off of Tahrir Square. The street leads to Egypt's Interior Ministry. That's the police headquarters, and it's been the scene of violent clashes over the past five days. But not all Cairo residents are sympathizing with the protesters involved in the clashes, as we hear now from NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Mohammed Mahmoud Street off of Tahrir Square looks like a war zone. Blackened trash and chunks of pavement litter the streets. Riot police fire repeated volleys of tear gas at the mostly young men who surge forward with hopes of storming the interior ministry. The attempts always fail, with ambulances and volunteers on motorbikes rushing in to take away the wounded.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORNS HONKING)

NELSON: At times, the policemen push forward, causing protesters to flee.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLING)

NELSON: Two blocks away, one sees a completely different Cairo. Shops are open, cars are moving on the streets and pedestrians amble along the sidewalks. But as normal as life appears here, it is not. The sharp smell of tear gas lingers in the air. And the number of people and cars is far fewer than one normally sees. It makes watch vendor Ahmed Ibrahim angry.

AHMED IBRAHIM: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: He, like every Cairene interviewed for this story, wants to know who the people are who are attacking the interior ministry and why. He believes that the protesters' demand for the ruling military council to step aside immediately isn't practical. Who would run things if they left, Ibrahim asks.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTERS)

NELSON: A growing number of Cairenes are uncomfortable with the ongoing uprising, which few outside Tahrir Square perceive to be like the one that ousted Hosni Mubarak earlier this year. The negative impact of the protest on commerce and tourism and the closure of many schools and government offices are also starting to grate. Clashes a few blocks from Mohammed Ibrahim's jewelry store have kept customers away for the better part of a week.

MOHAMMED IBRAHIM: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: The 68-year-old says he's glad his countrymen ousted a corrupt government. But he complains that the current protesters aren't the intellectuals who took part in what Egyptians refer to as the 25th of January revolution. He calls them young delinquents who throw rocks at the police. Across the river in the upscale neighborhood of Zamalek, 48-year-old Manal Kamal shared Ibrahim's mistrust of those taking part in the uprising.

MANAL KAMAL: My servant, she has a son. She said he went there. I said how come he went there? She said he's fed up and doesn't have work and he doesn't - so he went. It's not the people we know in 25 here of January. They are not the guys there. I don't know.

NELSON: Back in Tahrir Square, protester Wedad Mustafa, a 60-year-old medical school professor, disagrees. She says many of the protesters from earlier this year are returning to the square as the crisis drags on. But she appreciates why many Egyptians may not be interested in doing the same.

WEDAD MUSTAFA: There is a protest but if you go two kilometers from here, life continues, it has to do so.

NELSON: Nevertheless, Mustafa and others at the square say they will continue to protest until Egypt's ruling military council steps down. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Cairo.

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