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Egyptian Police, Protesters Clash For 3rd Day


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. Dramatic video from Egypt over the weekend showed security forces swinging batons. Sometimes they wielded them like tennis rackets, and sometimes like baseball bats as they struck Egyptian protesters. The protesters want Egypt's military to drop a bid to ensure a privileged place for itself in the new government now evolving. The fighting is centered around the Interior Ministry and in Cairo's Tahrir Square, landmarks that are familiar from the battle that ousted President Hosni Mubarak early this year.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is covering the story in Cairo. Hi, Soraya.


INSKEEP: Are protests continuing today?

NELSON: Yes, it's ratcheting up again. There is a battle sort of over the frontline, if you will. You have riot police trying to push protesters back. There was teargas being lobbed. The protesters have in the meantime pushed back again toward the Interior Ministry, so this is occurring basically in Tahrir Square and around the Interior - or I should say the street leading to the Interior Ministry. At least one apartment building in the area was on fire, and again, teargas is being lobbed.

INSKEEP: Would you remind us what brought the protesters out into the streets in such great numbers in the last few days?

NELSON: Well, there was a protest on Friday that had been called for by the Muslim Brotherhood to demonstrate against the military rulers to demand that they hand over power and not try to enshrine those powers once a civilian government is elected and takes charge early next year. So the Muslim Brotherhood basically went home, several hundred people set up tents and tried to stay in the square, and that's when riot police moved in and violently pushed them out. They've since burned those tents down. Of course, when this violence resumed, and the photographs were very similar to what we saw in January when Hosni Mubarak was being driven from power, this drew more protesters into the square and into the neighboring streets, and it's been a very violent encounter for the last three days.

INSKEEP: What is the government saying about all this?

NELSON: Well, the interim government is saying that these protesters are trying to derail elections, which were scheduled for the 28th, one week from now. And the military in the meanwhile, the military rulers have put out a statement saying that while they regret what has happened, they didn't express any apologies. They called on people to work together. They say they're not trying to hang on to power and they basically are calling for an end to this.

INSKEEP: So they're telling the protesters to go home, not meeting their demands. In these kinds of circumstances, can there be elections a week from today, Soraya?

NELSON: Well, the government is insisting there must be and there will be, except a very important press conference today that was supposed to lay out exactly how the polls will take place. You know, that has been cancelled because of the ongoing violence. So it seems very difficult to basically set up elections in a week, which is what the time is left for them to do that.

INSKEEP: One other thing, Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson. You mentioned that the Muslim Brotherhood initially called the protest that then escalated and led to this weekend of violence and perhaps a little beyond that. Is the Muslim Brotherhood the only group that's involved here?

NELSON: Well, they called for the initial protest but they've been absent. That's something that's very strange for the people who are now on the square fighting this. They are somewhat angry with the Muslim Brotherhood. And the government also - I should say the military rulers also sort of made an implied suggestion that they're angry as well, that they feel that this was stirred up, this trouble was stirred up by the Muslim Brotherhood. But the Muslim Brotherhood, for its part, wants the elections to go forward. They say they're not going to take part in these demonstrations because, frankly, they made their point on Friday and now they want this process to move into the election phase.

INSKEEP: So it's other groups, more liberal groups that have been protesting and fighting the last few days.

NELSON: Yes. Exactly. And it's important to note that a lot of the political parties and candidates have suspended their campaigns in protest of what these security forces have been doing to protesters.

INSKEEP: Soraya, thanks very much.

NELSON: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.