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Thousands Protest Across Egypt, Inspired By Tunisia


Let's go, next, to Cairo, Egypt where anti-government demonstrations have broken out on the streets. This is the kind of thing that people watch very closely in the Arab world in the wake of a revolution in Tunisia. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Cairo, she's on the streets. Soraya, what have you been seeing?

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: The police have been lobbing tear gas and firing water cannons to break up the crowds. The crowds will run back and forth, periodically, I mean, you know, to, sort of, basically escape the gas, and then they'll run back, or push back into the square. And it's pretty spectacular in the sense that normally the police would be even more, shall we say, they'd be more like, in the business of cordoning off this sort of activity. And they've been actually allowing quite a bit of freedom to these demonstrators, today, who've been marching all across the city, demanding higher minimum wage, demanding presidential term limits, demanding an end to the state of emergency, and wanting more freedom.

INSKEEP: Now, when you say presidential term limits, you're talking about a country where Hosni Mubarek has been the president of Egypt, and an authoritarian president, for the most part, for three decades. That's got to be a demand that, that, that is unmistakable if you're in authority in Egypt right now.

SARHADDI NELSON: Absolutely. I mean, there is a presidential election next year, and I think what protestors are hoping is that, by this sort of demonstration, perhaps some sort of pressure could be brought to bear, to change the rules, to change the constitution, to make it so that President Mubarek cannot run again or cannot appoint a successor, as many have alleged he would be planning to do.

INSKEEP: Are people, in their conversations or in the signs they're holding, in the speeches they're giving, alluding to the revolution, the overthrow of an authoritarian government in Tunisia?

SARHADDI NELSON: Yes, they're using that as their inspiration. There are a lot of phrases and slogans that are being chanted, here, that refer to Tunisia and been telling them: dear friends, take heart, we well continue where you left off. And, as many protestors that I interviewed today, said, they are the largest - or Egypt is the largest Arab nation. They'd like to take up this mantle, they don't want it to die with Tunisia. And there certainly is a lot of inspiration today. The crowds were being told, by organizers, anyway - we don't have official estimates yet. But certainly, even visually, looking at them, they're much larger than anything that's been seen in years.

INSKEEP: Is there any coherent leadership of this demonstration?

SARHADDI NELSON: There isn't. I mean, you have some of the groups that have been leading protests here in recent years, people that have used Facebook, people that have been associated with noble laureates, Mr. ElBaradei(ph), they are out here helping organizing it. But they wanted to make a special point today, of not group's banners represented, or any slogans being chanted representing particular groups - Muslim Brotherhood, etc. They want this to be an Egyptian peoples' effort. And that id type of face they are presenting here today.

INSKEEP: Soraya, thanks very much for the update.

SARHADDI NELSON: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is on the streets of Cairo, Egypt where serious demonstrations have broken out today. And we'll bring you more as we learn it. This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.