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Mubarak Loyalists Clash With Protesters In Cairo

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

For a couple of days now, pro-Mubarak demonstrators have made themselves felt on the streets, and we're going to talk about that with Ashraf Khalil, he's an Egyptian-American journalist. He's in Cairo.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. ASHRAF KHALIL (Journalist): Hello.

INSKEEP: Other security forces, police and so forth, who in the streets is still favoring Hosni Mubarak as president of Egypt?

Mr. KHALIL: Well, I think you're going to get different camps. You're going to get a large percentage of citizens who do view him as kind of a stern but benevolent father figure, who, you know, has tried to keep stability of a treacherous region. And you're going to also get people who have benefited from the Mubarak regime, whose stability and incomes are tied to it, and that's not a small number.

And then you're going to get people who are, if not supporters of Mubarak, content with the latest stance and don't see the reason for further protests, for further disruptions of daily life. They're happy to see him go but they don't see any reason to hound him from the stage and humiliate him on the way out.

INSKEEP: Humiliation - that would be the thing that some people would be against here.

Mr. KHALIL: Absolutely.

INSKEEP: Because why? Is there still some respect for Mubarak and for his record?

Mr. KHALIL: Keep in mind: he's a genuine war hero and he has been around for a long time. And he has positioned himself as sort of father of the nation. I mean, it would be inaccurate to say that everyone here hates Mubarak. No.

INSKEEP: And do you have a sense of where the army really stands in this situation right now?

Mr. KHALIL: None whatsoever, and nobody else does either, outside of the highest court or the decision making here. That is the huge question. The behavior of the army yesterday, was at the very least, puzzling. There were token attempts to prevent the pro-Mubarak people from being into Tahrir, but by the time I got to the square, it was open battle and the soldiers were watching. Some of them looked frustrated and looked like they wished they could do something but they obviously haven't been told to even separate the crowds.

INSKEEP: That's been a common theme here. No matter who has been taking charge in the streets, the army's actions have been quite limited, quite restrained.

Mr. KHALIL: Their behavior has been very restrained from the beginning, and in the first days that was probably a good thing in that they didn't take aggressive action against anybody. They just got between the police and the protestors and brought a sense of calmness and perhaps a sense of restraint to the situation.

As of yesterday, I'm not sure if restraint is the way to go.

INSKEEP: Can you just give me an idea - I know you're on your way to Tahrir Square, even as we speak with you here this morning - when you were last there, can you give me an idea of what it feels like, in the last 24 hours, to be in that square as things have become more and more turbulent?

Mr. KHALIL: Well, in Tahrir, there's a lot of concern, there is some fear, there's a lot of anger. Their numbers are a little bit thin. And it was hard work for them to block all the nine or 10 streets that lead into Tahrir. It's a huge square with a lot of entry points. So, I think they're tired, there's wounded there, they are undersupplied and they are probably wondering if people are going to come help them, if reinforcements are on the way. But there is also a lot of defiance.

You know, the people that are still in Tahrir have essentially been fighting street battles for a week now. They're getting pretty good at it.

INSKEEP: When you say people are wondering if reinforcements are going to arrive, I wonder if reinforcements are not going to arrive because Mubarak did make this announcement that he would be leaving, even if not right away?

Mr. KHALIL: Well, I mean, I think that particular stance that he took, that OK, I'm leaving, but you're not going to hound me from the building is calibrated to split away a portion, to satisfy a portion of the people and to further paint the protestors as irrational, as just wanting too much.

But those protest organizers are calling for a huge protest tomorrow, are calling for a huge mobilization tomorrow. So, I think the question today, if we do get more attempts to overrun the square, can the protestors hold Tahrir until Friday.

INSKEEP: Ashraf Khalil is a senior reporter from Al Masry Al Youm in Cairo -that means The Egyptian Today. He also writes for Foreign Policy magazine. Thanks very much.

Mr. KHALIL: No problem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.