Egyptian Protesters Ponder Their Next Step
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And now, let's go to Egypt where days of protests gave way to two days of peaceful and well-attended elections. Now, the protesters, who had been occupying the famous Tahrir Square in Cairo, are wondering what their next steps should be. The crowds dwindled as the voting continued.
NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Last week, the protestors in Tahrir Square looked like they were about to topple yet another Egyptian government. There was a groundswell of support for their demand that the military council ruling Egypt step down and make way from civilian rule.
(SOUNDBITE OF A CROWD)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: For the past few days though, Tahrir Square has been home, mostly to the curious who come for a stroll or on dates.
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GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mahmoud Hassan has been selling tea here since last January, at the beginning of Egypt's Revolution.
MAHMOUD HASSAN: (Foreign language spoken)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: People are more fragmented, more divided, he says. People used to be more united and now people are having arguments here all the time.
HASSAN: (Foreign language spoken)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: He starts to cry, saying he feels many people are trying to drag down the spirit of the revolution. Many people are against Tahrir he says. At least for now, it's not clear when or if there will be more mass protests in Tahrir.
OMAR ROBERT HAMILTON: Today it does feel a bit low, and maybe it just needs to pack up and save it for another time.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Omar Robert Hamilton is an Egyptian British activist filmmaker.
HAMILTON: The fact that the elections did go ahead through all of their flaws and for the fact that everyone knows all the problems and limitations with them, I think, has taken some of the energy out of the square.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Hamilton says the military council is using the elections to bolster its legitimacy in the aftermath of last week's violence. And it's working.
HAMILTON: I do think that they are working very hard on trying to make it seem that Tahrir is something independent from the will of everyone else. And I think that's something that Tahrir has to work on, making people see that it's not a question of either being out and voting or being here. That everyone is actually pushing for the same thing, civilian rule and for, you know, genuine freedom.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Nour Nour is the activist son of opposition Egyptian politician and presidential candidate Ayman Nour. Even though Nour Nour was shot by the Egyptian security services with two rubber bullets in the recent unrest in Tahrir...
NOUR NOUR: When the numbers in the sit in are decreased, when the numbers in the sit in are very low, it's important to make the strategic decision to end the sit in. This is not sustainable anymore.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Nour says one of the problems is that even though the protestors demands are clear - an immediate end to military rule - there isn't a plan in place to really make it happen. Over the weekend, presidential contender Mohammed el-Baradie said he would head a National Salvation Government, but the idea was stillborn. So says Nour many activists think it may be better to bide their time.
NOUR: You know, maybe it's not smart to keep this going because things are so ambiguous, things are so - are not really clear at the moment.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Moshirah Ahmed is a founder of the April 6th Movement - one of the earliest revolutionary protest groups.
MOSHIRAH AHMED: (Foreign language spoken)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: She says protests in Tahrir are not the only way they can exert pressure on the military junta. Activists are working in all sorts of areas she says: monitoring the elections, standing for office, representing Egypt abroad.
AHMED: (Foreign language spoken)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: She says a lot of people have died on the square, died right next to us, left and right, and we cannot just abandon the square just like that, she says. We have to continue what we started. What these people died for, we have to make it happen.
She says the Square will continue to be a focal point. And even if the sit in is called off for now, today's activists know their way back to Tahrir when it's needed. But Moshira Ahmed is about to get married and so she's starting to think, long term, about her children and their children.
AHMED: (Foreign language spoken)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: She says she hopes future Egyptians won't need to gather in Tahrir like her generation did. She says she dreams that her children will visit it as a site of historical interest, to see where people defied their government, so they could be free.
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Cairo.
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