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As Egypt Moves Toward Elections, Anxiety Grows

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As Egypt Moves Toward Elections, Anxiety Grows

Middle East

As Egypt Moves Toward Elections, Anxiety Grows

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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And let's go next to Egypt, where new political parties are frantically trying to organize, register and make themselves known before elections scheduled for this fall. But time is short and the country is plagued by lawlessness and friction between Muslims and Christians. Some Egyptians are concerned that all the politicking may be undermining the country's stability. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Cairo.

PETER KENYON: Like the waters of the Nile before the construction of the great dam at Aswan, political activism is flooding across the land. Decades of repression and corruption have left deep scars and a hunger for justice among Egyptians in all walks of life.

(Soundbite of people talking in foreign language)

KENYON: At the Cairo Medical Union recently, doctors gathered to prepare for a strike. Pediatrician Ahmed Baht says the number one demand is to keep the revolution going, which for the doctors means ousting the health minister and his colleagues, who, Baht says, are irrevocably tainted by their long ties to the old, corrupt Mubarak regime.

Dr. AHMEF BAHT (Pediatrician): We want to remove this gang because they are the same men who shared for a long time in the worst Cabinet of Health in Egypt in all of modern history.

KENYON: In an office building not far away, Egyptians waited to sign up at the launch of yet another new political party - the Justice Party. It joins a slew of other moderate, secular parties: the Popular Alliance, the Free Egyptians, the Democratic Labor Party and many others.

Ehab El Kharrat, a psychiatrist who helped found the Egyptian Social Democratic Party. He says, like other center and left parties, they're attracting lots of civil society leaders and intellectuals. But the key to success, he believes, will be their efforts to reach out to ordinary Egyptians - the ones who don't want to hear about separating religion and state, but also have their doubts about Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

Dr. EHAB EL KHARRAT (Psychiatrist): Most of the villagers who find themselves religious but they find the Muslim Brotherhood a little bit weird. This is not us. So they are joining us, and they are looking for us. How fast will they find us and how fast we will we be able to organize ourselves is the issue.

(Soundbite of crowd chanting in foreign language)

KENYON: But if the key to the Arab uprisings was breaking the wall of fear that kept autocratic regimes in place, then Egyptians are right to be worried these days, because fear is returning. Rising street crime in the absence of a strong police presence has increased uncertainty about where the revolution is heading. Even more chilling has been the sectarian bloodshed between Muslims and Coptic Christians that left more than a dozen people dead earlier this month.

Large crowds gathered at Tahrir Square, Friday, to demand an end to sectarian strife and a return to the rule of law. Hussein, a teacher at Al-Azhar University, said remnants of the Mubarak regime were probably behind the sectarian violence, hoping to derail the revolution.

HUSSEIN (Teacher, Al-Azhar University): Some people try to make some problems against Muslims and Christians, but we are one. The Muslims and the Christians are one.

KENYON: Others have suggested that Saudi Arabia is supporting the hard-line Salafists in Egypt, who were blamed for provoking the sectarian violence.

Analyst Emad Gad at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies says chaos in Egypt now would give regimes such as the Saudis a stronger argument for quelling discontent at home.

Mr. EMAD GAD (Analyst, Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies): They want to deliver a message to their people: You are saying that we are corrupted? Yes, we are corrupted. You are saying that we are not democratic? Yes, we are not democratic. But it's better for you to live under our regime more than imitating the Egyptian model.

KENYON: For now, against a backdrop of growing anxiety and uncertainty, Egyptians are trying to hang on, get organized and shepherd their revolution into the next electoral phase.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Cairo.

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