Political Protests In Egypt Intensify, Expand

Egypt's military rulers named a former prime minister under Hosni Mubarak to head the new government. The move is likely to further incite the tens of thousands of protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square, demanding the resignation of the ruling military council. And for the first time, pro-military protesters gathered in another of Cairo's squares.

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In Egypt today, the ruling military council named a new prime minister. At the same time, protestors marched through Cairo. But those protesters now represent two very different groups. The far larger one opposes the military and wants the generals to step aside. The other took to the streets for the first time today, in full support of the military.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson has our story from Cairo.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTERS)

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Protestors jammed downtown Cairo streets, blocking traffic as they urged people watching from their windows to join them in their bid to oust Egypt's military rulers.

One of the protestors was Karim Ennarah, a researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

KARIM ENNARAH: I'm happy that we've at least destroyed the myth that the revolution is over and that we can't get more than 1,000 people on the streets anymore. It happened overnight and we proved to them that the revolution is still alive. And I know that this has shaken the military's confidence massively.

NELSON: But unlike the uprising in January that ousted Mubarak, few people came down to join the marchers. What was also different is that security forces stayed away, allowing the group to march unimpeded to join the throng in Tahrir Square.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTERS)

NELSON: A half-hour away in the neighborhood of Abbasiya, pro-military protestors held their own mass demonstration, captured here on Egyptian State TV. It was the first time since the crisis began last weekend that supporters of the ruling military council came out in force. They exemplified the growing frustration among many Egyptians with the anti-regime protestors, who are blamed for a failing economy and insecurity.

The rival demonstrations highlight the strife that is likely to plague Egypt for months to come, as people decide who will lead them after the military steps down.

Also fueling the discord was the appointment of Kamal el Ganzouri to be the new prime minister. Protestors quickly created banners denouncing Ganzouri, who was prime minister under Hosni Mubarak in the 1990s.

(SOUNDBITE OF POTESTERS)

NELSON: Thirty-three-year-old Noha Khalil is a protestor in Tahrir Square who works for a telecommunication company.

NOHA KHALIL: Though I respect the guy a lot, I just think that he is not the right man for the job. He is not somebody coming out of this Tahrir Square or anywhere in Egypt, where there are people crying out for freedom.

NELSON: Ganzouri immediately tried to reassure his critics.

KAMAL EL GANZOURI: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: At a news conference broadcast on Egyptian state television, he stressed he would not have taken the job if he felt the ruling military council didn't plan to hand over power to an elected government. He also invited critics and supporters to put forth names for his new cabinet.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTERS)

NELSON: But protestors in Tahrir had their own ideas as to who should run Egypt now. Many called up for setting up a civilian council made up of potential presidential candidates and personalities, representing a wide spectrum of political forces.

The military rulers did not respond to that demand, nor did the prime minister designate, who said he wouldn't form a new cabinet before the first phase of parliamentary elections that begin on Monday.

Many protestors want the voting to be delayed. Forty-one year-old protestor Amal Bakry says she's wavering about whether to vote, because of this week's clashes between protestors and police near the interior ministry that left dozens of people dead.

AMAL BAKRY: I don't think it's an appropriate time or situation to have the elections because if - I mean, the whole situation is between the citizens and the ministry of interior. And they are the ones who are guarding the elections. How could it be?

NELSON: Meanwhile, officials announced the first phase of parliamentary elections would be extended an extra day to give more voters the chance to cast ballots.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Cairo.

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