Egyptians Next Demand: Better Pay, Conditions
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
The mood in Egypt has gone from celebration to watchfulness, as protesters who brought down the government wait to see what their military rulers have in store for them. The military council now running the country has suspended the constitution and disbanded a parliament that had been in the pocket of the president, and those were two key demands of the protesters. But there's also word that the military could move today to ban strikes and even meetings of unions and professional groups.
NPR's Corey Flintoff is on the line with us from Alexandria.
COREY FLINTOFF: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Now, the military is seeming to have a mixed bag of what it's doing, working for the protesters and honoring some of their demands, but also perhaps a little bit against the political openness that it promised after President Mubarak stepped down. So how are people who you've talked to taking that?
FLINTOFF: Well, the military seems to be very concerned about returning to what they regard as order. You know, now that the main symbol of repressive government is gone, a lot of the country's fundamental problems are just coming to the surface. So the people that we've talked to say that, you know, they're bringing these concerns, you know, to the public.
Yesterday in Cairo, they were strikes and some scattered job actions by bank workers and police. They are demanding something that they rarely dared to demand before. It's just better pay and working conditions. There were protests in front of some Cairo banks, and the military responded by declaring a bank holiday today. So the schools and the public offices are still closed. Many buses and trains don't seem to be running because of a strike by transportation workers. So that's why people are telling us that they're expecting that the next military communique will include an order restricting strikes and union meetings.
MONTAGNE: And Corey, we've heard that that young Google executive Wael Ghonim, who became a leading figure in the protests, has had talks with the military. What do you know about that?
FLINTOFF: Well, yesterday, Ghonim wrote a post on the Facebook page that he manages, and he said that he and other activists had what he called a positive meeting with the military. He stressed that it wasn't a negotiation. It's more of a chance just for the army and the youth movement to share their points of view. And he said that the army stressed that they do not want to rule Egypt. He said for them, the most important thing is just to get people back to work for the sake of the economy.
There's a constitutional committee that's working on amendments to the constitution. They expect to finish their work in about 10 days, and they'll vote on them in two months. So that'll show us what really the military intends to allow, as far as political organizations.
But Ghonim said that he considers it to be a very encouraging development.
MONTAGNE: And while Ghonim is possibly the most recognizable face of the protest movement - certainly from those of us on the outside - what about the leaders? Are they using this time to organize politically?
FLINTOFF: Well, there's no doubt that there's a lot of organizing going on behind the scenes, I'm sure on the Internet. But - and there have been some signs of division among the protesters, too. We've heard, for instance, that there is some jealousy of Ghonim being a leading voice. I don't know exactly how serious that is. Yesterday, there were quite a few people in Tahrir Square, some of them arguing about whether they should remain there to keep up the pressure on the government.
There are reported to be a few dozen remaining protesters in the square, and they've been ordered by military police to leave. It's not clear yet whether they'll agree to leave willingly, you know. But for the most part, traffic is back to normal in most of the square, and that means in Cairo, traffic gridlock.
MONTAGNE: Corey, thanks very much.
MONTAGNE: NPR's Cory Flintoff.
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