Middle East


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

In Egypt, a disturbing new trend has emerged. In recent clashes between protesters and security forces, children have been fighting on the front lines. Following clashes in December, one out of every four protesters thrown in jail was a child. And activists say several have been killed or wounded recently by gunfire and tear gas. Child advocates claim most, if not all, of these kids live on Cairo's streets.

As NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports, they see the revolution as a way to escape their isolation from society.


SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Every Friday, crowds of Egyptians gather in Cairo to chant slogans against their military rulers.


NELSON: But this small group recently tried bringing attention to a problem few protestors like to talk about, the plight of street children who take part in demonstrations.


NELSON: They shout that the ruling generals should be ashamed for killing or jailing those kids.

AMIRA ABDELHAMID: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: Rally organizer Amira Abdelhamid hands the children who show up helium-filled balloons. One is 11-year-old Ahmed Adel.

AHMED ADEL: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: He says he likes going to protests to check out what's going on. Adel admits he throws stones at the soldiers and then runs away.

Abdelhamid lauds children like Adel for braving bullets, beatings and tear gas on the front lines with other protestors. The 20-year-old university student says the children are valuable partners in the Egyptian revolution, given their speed, agility, and small size, which make it harder for security forces to stop them.

She adds that it is important to recognize their contribution, which is why she and a teen acquaintance organized the rally.

ABDELHAMID: I wasn't communicating the message of whether it was good or bad because I don't know. It's bad for them but its good, it helps us as well on the front lines. I was just saying thank you.

NELSON: She adds it's frustrating that only a few dozen people showed up at the rally. Many more demonstrated nearby against Egyptian troops for attacking female protestors last month. The photo of one veiled woman stripped down to her blue brassiere and being dragged by soldiers who kicked and beat her, drew worldwide condemnation.

Protestor Abdelhamid says the story of an Egyptian boy who was shot by soldiers during the same series of protests drew far less attention.


NELSON: In this YouTube video of the incident, rescue workers try to stop the frightened teen from bleeding to death from a bullet wound in his chest.

Again, protestor Abdelhamid.

ABDELHAMID: A lot of controversy happened about the women's march and about that girl who was stripped, why, why, why, was she there - blah, blah, blah. But I don't think anyone would say: Why were the children there.

NELSON: It's a question the ruling generals are asking, however.

GENERAL ADEL EMARA: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: At a recent news conference, General Adel Emara accused activists he did not name of paying children and teens to throw rocks and Molotov cocktails at security forces.

EMARA: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: The general also showed a poor-quality video of a boy named Sami, confessing to his interrogator that he received the equivalent of $33 to attack the buildings.

Many children's rights activists here suspect that confession was coerced. They accuse the generals of using the kids to try to discredit the pro-democracy movement and justify soldiers' use of deadly force.

Lawyer Tarek El Awady is representing 82 children arrested for taking part in last month's violent demonstrations, outside the cabinet and parliament buildings.

TAREK EL AWADY: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: He says these street children sought shelter, food and companionship from protestors encamped downtown.

Activist Amira Abdelhamid adds the kids tell her and other protestors that they are the only Egyptians who make them feel they are important.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News.

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