Protesters, Loyalists Clash As Chaos Intensifies In Cairo's Tahrir Square on Thursday, anti-government protesters faced off for a second day against supporters of President Mubarak. The protesters say gangs of Mubarak supporters have been organized by the government. Mubarak denied that Thursday in an interview with ABC News, but he said he was troubled by the violence. For the latest, host Robert Siegel speaks to NPR's Eric Westervelt.
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Protesters, Loyalists Clash As Chaos Intensifies

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Protesters, Loyalists Clash As Chaos Intensifies

Protesters, Loyalists Clash As Chaos Intensifies

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

Today, in Egypt, some conciliatory language from the government, but continued clashes. In Tahrir Square, anti-government protestors faced off for a second day against supporters of President Mubarak. The protestors say gangs of Mubarak supporters have been organized by the government.

NORRIS: President Mubarak denied that today in an interview with ABC News. But he said he was troubled by the violence. He also said he would like to leave office now, but he fears the country would sink into chaos.

SIEGEL: Well, joining us to talk about the latest developments now is NPR's Eric Westervelt. He is in Cairo at a hotel overlooking Tahrir Square. And, Eric, what's the situation in the square now? What's the latest?

ERIC WESTERVELT: So they're remaining defiant, but there's no denying that there's fear out there as well, since the army yesterday, Robert, did very little to stop the violence.

SIEGEL: Now, today, Egypt's new vice president, Omar Suleiman, gave an interview to state television, in which he reached out to the banned Muslim Brotherhood. He said that the Islamist political group was welcome to join a political dialogue about Egypt's future. From what you've been able to learn, what's the reaction to that?

WESTERVELT: Well, it seems that talks are really at a complete standstill, Robert. I mean, leaders of the Brotherhood have been very clear in saying they don't want to enter any talks with the government until after President Mubarak resigns. Today they reiterated that and they called for creation of a national unity government and they did it in a forceful way. Another opposition figure, Mohamed Elbaradei, the Nobel laureate, he also repeated that message. So it appears right now, talks are really at a standstill.

SIEGEL: From what you describe, and also from the words of Vice President Suleiman rejecting calls by the White House and by some European leaders to accelerate political change in Egypt, it looks like the Mubarak regime is digging in, from what we hear.

WESTERVELT: And he also went on to accuse unidentified foreign elements of being behind the protest. He did say neither he or Mubarak's son, Gamal, would be candidates for president in the fall elections. But other than that, Robert, there are no real signs the government right now is ready to make any serious concessions to try end and de-escalate this crisis.

SIEGEL: And, Eric, today, we've heard of coordinated, at times vicious, attacks on members of the news media and on foreigners, including our own correspondent, Lourdes Garcia-Navarro. And we've heard of Egyptian security forces detaining and arresting journalists. What can you tell us about those incidents?

WESTERVELT: Also, today, a Greek reporter was stabbed. And, really, Robert, more than a dozen news organizations, Arab and Western, have all reported incidents today, some of them very serious. The White House denounced this harassment as unacceptable. And journalist groups issued strongly worded statements. But it's not clear those will make any difference. It appears the Mubarak regime is targeting journalists.

SIEGEL: Well, we appreciate your reporting and take care. That's NPR's Eric Westervelt in Cairo. Thanks, Eric.

WESTERVELT: Thanks, Robert.

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