Clashes Mount In Egypt's Tahrir Square

Nov 20, 2011
Originally published on November 20, 2011 1:51 pm
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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

A night of intense clashes between protesters and police in Cairo's Tahrir Square left hundreds injured and at least two people dead. Police fought with protesters, firing tear gas and rubber bullets. And the situation has worsened since Egyptian army troops moved in. All this comes a little move than a week before Egypt's first parliamentary elections, the first since former President Hosni Mubarak stepped down in February. Leila Fadel is the Cairo bureau chief for The Washington Post, and she speaks to up from Cairo. Leila, welcome.

LEILA FADEL: Thank you so much for having me.

CORNISH: Start by describing some of the images you've seen in Tahrir Square. I know this is the second day of clashes between police and the protesters.

FADEL: Yeah, I would say that this is the most sustained violence that we've seen since Egypt's uprising in January, when protesters ousted Hosni Mubarak. And you saw injuries in the square. They had set up field hospitals to treat the wounded. And by nightfall, the military police were deployed and beat protesters out of the square; tear gassed them heavily. A lot of rubber-bullet wounds. And so, you're really seeing the most intense clash between military police and protesters that we've seen since the uprising here in January and February.

CORNISH: And what specifically are their demands?

FADEL: That's becoming less and less clear as the clashes continue. Originally, this was about handing over power quickly. And it remains that. People feel that the military are trying to remain in power, that they're putting presidential elections date too late, and they're trying to keep power for too long and not handing it over to civilians.

CORNISH: What specifically has the military said about when it will turn over power?

FADEL: Well, they have talked about handing over power after the presidential elections, which they want to schedule in 2013. The main call is for those elections, presidential elections, to be moved up to the spring of 2012. They've also - one of the main points that set off, especially the Islamists here - was the super-constitutional principles, a draft document that basically would guide the writing of the constitution. And in that document, they asked for no accountability of their budget. They asked for influence in writing it, of the constitution. And that was the major setting-off point. But now that the Islamists are no longer really the dominant force among these protesters, it really is a mix of people who are all calling out for this demand. But it should be pointed out that these are thousands of people in a country of 80 million. The military leadership has had consistently high approval ratings on opinion polls and surveys that have been done since Mubarak's ouster. So, they seem to really be digging in their heels right now, betting on maybe their popularity, rather than conceding to protesters.

CORNISH: That's the Washington Post's Leila Fadel, joining us from Cairo. Leila, thank you so much.

FADEL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.