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Egypt Protesters Maintain Presence In Tahrir Square


It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

Protestors arriving today in Cairo's Tahrir Square found a different landscape than the day before. Overnight, the Egyptian army intensified its control of the square, and its moves underline the mystery of what the army is up to. Barricades now surround the square, and the military checks protestors on their way in, but still allows them in. What we don't know is if all this suggests the situation is more orderly or more dangerous.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro is in Cairo.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Inside Tahrir Square, protestors are camped out in tents and huddled around fires. Many say they've been there overnight, refusing to give ground in these demonstrations. The army, though, is tightening its cordon around what has become the heart of the demonstrations. Blast walls have been erected, and access restricted to the square.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And the protestors expressed fear that a crackdown could be on its way. Tahir Abdul Aziz spent the night in the square.

Mr. TAHIR ABDUL AZIZ: It's the final day, OK? OK?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why do you think it's the final day?

Mr. AZIZ: I think. I guess. OK? The conditions are changing.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But the protestors say they remained undaunted. Ahmed Nituali is a tour guide.

AHMED NITUALI (Tour Guide): I would die for this land. I'm telling you, for the very first time in my life, in 30 years, I feel proud of being Egyptian. When they used to ask me about my nationality, I used to say, actually, yes, alas, I am Egyptian. Unfortunately, I'm Egyptian. Today, it's different. Today, I - my head is high, and I say out loud: I am Egyptian.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Opposition figure and Nobel laureate Mohammed Elbaradei came to the square last night, but he's far from the anointed head of this protest movement, say demonstrators. Ahmed Idam is a dentist.

Dr. AHMED IDAM (Dentist): We have many good leaders. We have many good people. We can have good elections, fair elections, and the people can choose whatever they want. This is the best solution, I guess.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In the midst of it all, there was the surreal scene of a group of three American students wheeling their bright suitcases through the demonstration. Tanver Khalam is from New York City.

Mr. TANVER KHALAM (Student): They want all their, like, students that are here to go to, like, the Zamalek dorms, which are obviously in Zamalek. And from there, they're going to, like, evacuate us to the U.S. embassy, I think, and then possibly send us either home, or to, like, Athens or Istanbul. I'm not sure.

It sucks. I mean, like, we were supposed to, like, be in our first day of classes yesterday. And, like, I was looking forward to here - you know, looking forward to being here for a semester, and, like, you know, now we have to leave.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So the evacuations of foreigners here continue, and some wealthier Egyptians, too, are leaving the city. But for the first day since the crisis started, there's a returning sense of normalcy in the capital. There are a few traffic cops on the streets, although no police in many neighborhoods yet. There are mixed feelings about the possible police presence. Some support their return to duty, fearing looters and escaped prisoners. Others say they're part of the problem, and not the solution. The police here is feared at the fist of the Mubarak regime.

(Soundbite of car horn honking)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Street sweepers are in action cleaning up debris, and some people are even returning to work. Some ATMs were working, and the Cairo Metro was busy. But it is far from business as usual here. The Internet is still being blocked by the government, and in neighborhoods across the city, men are continuing to patrol to make sure looters and thieves are kept away. Sarah Huwas has taken part in the protests, but today was in her neighborhood of Dokki. She says things are less chaotic.

Ms. SARAH HUWAS: It was significantly calmer. We had maybe two major incidents where we heard repeated gunfire.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The protestors have called for a million-man march tomorrow. It remains to be seen if it will be allowed to go forward and how many people will show up. Analysts here say Mubarak may be digging in his heels, and he'll try to wait the protestors out, hoping the movement here will lose steam.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR NEWS, Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.