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2011-02-11

“We Are Not Going Home Until This Regime Leaves”: Egyptian Blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah Reports from Cairo

Guests

Alaa Abd El Fattah, Egyptian blogger

Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Democracy Now! senior producer. He is currently reporting in Cairo, Egypt.

Anjali Kamat, Democracy Now! correspondent. She is currently reporting in Cairo, Egypt.

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We speak with Egyptian blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah, who calls in from a major protest outside the Egyptian state TV headquarters in Cairo. Other protesters are marching on the presidential palace. Democracy Now!’s Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Anjali Kamat review updates from the streets across Egypt from a studio in Cairo. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I’ve just been told that we do have someone on the phone right now, so we’re going to go right to that person.

Can you tell us who you are and where you are?

ALAA ABD EL FATTAH: This is Alaa Abd El Fattah. I’m an activist in this revolution. I’m standing in front of the TV building in Cairo.

AMY GOODMAN: OK. Tell us, Alaa — it’s great to have you with this, a prominent Egyptian blogger, democracy activist — what is happening in front of the presidential palace, one of a number of new places that are being occupied by protesters, like Egyptian state TV, as well, and the parliament.

ALAA ABD EL FATTAH: Yeah, so, my understanding, that there are two palaces where we have protests now. The [inaudible] place where the — that’s in downtown. There’s a large crowd there, and it’s a big square, so this might turn into another Freedom Square, in a way, or we hope so. The other one is Oruba, which is far, far east. And there’s a smaller crowd there. And, you know, it’s not directly connected to Tahrir Square, so there is no supply line open. So we’re trying to bring in more crowds there. I hear there are marches heading that way, that maybe number in thousands, but I’m not sure. We’ll have to wait until they arrive and call someone there to know what’s going on.

In front of the TV building, it’s a big crowd. We can’t shut down the TV building, because of its shape and it’s heavily barricaded by the army. And what we’re trying to do is put pressure on the employees working inside to join us, to revolt and refuse to spread state propaganda.

AMY GOODMAN: What is your reaction to the speech of Mubarak, Alaa?

ALAA ABD EL FATTAH: Well, people were very angry. Like in halfway through the speech, you could feel the anger. You could almost touch it. And then, when he mentioned staying until September, people took off their shoes and, you know, raised them high in the air as a sign of disrespect and absolute refusal of anything that he says. And this anger, you know, it was very difficult to predict where it would lead to, but it led to this escalation of moving to the presidential palace and the TV building. And by today, you know, there was a very strong show of numbers, despite the army making a statement that kind of said they support Mubarak and Omar Suleiman.

These statements, people thought this would confuse the revolutionaries, but our numbers swelled. And this turned the anger into a very positive force. So, like, people were worried maybe the kids will act violently, but we didn’t. When we saw our numbers were, you know, confidence was back. There was no point in anger. We know this is a weak regime. We know we’re giving them blow after blow, and they’re trying to give us concessions, not the concessions we want, but it still proves that we are strong. And so, you know, we’re just going to continue as is, and the atmosphere is still jubilant and victorious.

JUAN GONZALEZ: So, Alaa, it seems that basically without any overall organization, the people have decided to create two, three, many Tahrir Squares all around Egypt, that there’s basically so many people now that they can’t all fit in Tahrir Square, so why not go out to all of the other institutions in the society and create new liberated zones in your country?

ALAA ABD EL FATTAH: Sorry, can you repeat that? Most of that I couldn’t hear.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I said that it seems that you are attempting to create two, three, many Tahrir Squares all around the country, in front of all the major institutions of power, as the regime clings to its levers of power for the moment.

ALAA ABD EL FATTAH: Yes, although, you know, the specific atmosphere of Tahrir Square is very hard to recreate anywhere else. But yes, this is the idea. We are trying to destroy that regime from the bottom up. This includes strikes in public-sector places, whether it’s factories. It includes employees inside ministries going on the road, joining protests, or slowing down work. And it includes us occupying spaces in front of these buildings.

So far, you know, our actions are a show of number, all symbolic, if we are — you know, apart from the strikes. Like, we did not try to occupy the parliament itself, just the street. But, you know, it’s obvious that we could continue to escalate, either by claiming more places or by actually moving inside these buildings, if the need comes. For now, we’re sticking to that plan, and we’re encouraging more and more Egyptians to either liberate institutions that should not be under the control of the state or kick out the government completely. That works in smaller cities. So now Suez, Mahalla, Mansoura, even Alexandria, and Ismailia and Port Said are free of the regime. There’s no governor. There’s no — the TV, the local TV channels have been shut down in Alexandria. You know, they kick out governors, [inaudible] elected one. There’s no police and so on. In Cairo, it’s obviously the capital. You can’t completely kick out the regime, but you can try and make them nonfunctional.

AMY GOODMAN: Alaa Abd El Fattah, the Supreme Council of the Egyptian armed forces has issued a statement over state television and radio indicating the military, not Mubarak, is in effective control of the country, unclear whether the military will take meaningful steps toward democracy or begin a military dictatorship. What do you think? Are you concerned about a military coup, Alaa?

ALAA ABD EL FATTAH: Personally, I’m not. I mean, I wouldn’t want a military coup, but I am not concerned about it. I think the idea of a military government is impractical, and I don’t think anyone is stupid enough to try it. But the signal the military is sending is very confusing, because in their second statement they said that they are going to implement what the President and the Vice President said. So, from our perspective, the regime still stands. Their figures are still there. And we still want them to leave. The relationship with the military is more complicated, and I’m not sure what the reaction would be if the military steps in or something like that. But I still don’t fear the military in any way. I don’t think they can afford to shoot at us, and I don’t think they can afford to rule. But, you know, that we’ll have to see. It’s very difficult to predict anything about this revolution.

AMY GOODMAN: Even as people are protesting, thousands outside of state TV, it’s interesting, Nile TV, which is state TV, is interviewing a protester on the phone right now. So things are changing, Alaa. At the beginning, they refused to even acknowledge there were protests.

ALAA ABD EL FATTAH: Yes. That change has actually happened before we occupied that place, because there has been a revolt inside state propaganda institutions. That includes newspapers and the TV. But, you know, it hasn’t been sweeping, so some individuals have joined and are trying to use their position; some individuals have joined by resigning, some are trying to use their position to present a different picture. So, two days ago, I think, or maybe it was yesterday, yesterday morning, I think, the fiancée of one of the marchers was interviewed on Channel 1, and she talked about what happened to her fiancé, how he died, and she talked about that their demand is for the President to leave and for the regime to be toppled. So, there’s an obvious sign of change, but it’s happening, again, from the bottom up. It’s because of the employees inside these institutions joining us.

AMY GOODMAN: Alaa, a quick question, then we’re ending with our colleagues Anjali and Sharif. The Army says they’ll end the state of emergency once the present circumstances end, which means, I guess, all of you go home. Will you?

ALAA ABD EL FATTAH: No, we’re not going home until this regime leaves. That has been made clear several times. And the numbers keep increasing. So it’s like — at this stage, it’s a stupid question, to be honest.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to go now to your neighbors in Cairo, to Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Anjali Kamat, as we wrap up this Democracy Now! special, "Uprising in Egypt." And we’ll continue to post all of your blogs, your tweets, at democracynow.org, so you can follow us all through the weekend.

Anjali and Sharif, your final comments about what is happening right now as you hear fellow blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah in front of the presidential palace?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, Amy, this latest news that you just said that the military has effectively taken over and asking whether worries of a military coup, this is not just about the removal of Mubarak. This is about democracy. This is a pro-democracy uprising. It always has been. And the demands of the protesters are many. And they’re calling for the ability to choose, for the first time in Egypt’s 7,000-year history, its own leader. And so, as Alaa has said, I think the protests are going to continue until the regime falls.

And Anjali, you were just talking to me about what Tahrir means and how it has changed many Egyptians.

ANJALI KAMAT: That’s right. Many of the people I spoke to in the square talk about what a transformational experience just being in the square has been, the fact that you have people from all classes, different parts of the country, rubbing shoulders in this tiny space. One woman even told me, "Even if we don’t get all our demands met, even if all of us die, the one thing that will come out of this is that we’ve all changed. We’ve learned what freedom looks like. We’ve learned how to create a society without the police, without the government, and we’ve tasted for the first time freedom."

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Anjali, one of the things that Alaa said that I thought was very interesting, that he is saying that in other parts of the country, in essence, the people have already taken over towns and institutions, and that because there is not that kind of a military or police presence in those other towns, and that actually Cairo could be the last place where the battle is fought, even though it started the battle. It could be, because of its power and its wealth there, it could be the final place in Egypt where this thing is resolved.

ANJALI KAMAT: Right. I mean, I’m not clear about what exactly is happening in other parts of the country, but we do hear reports of enormous demonstrations there and people taking over different institutions of power in other parts of the country. And here in Cairo, as the protests spread beyond Tahrir, in front of the parliament building, in front of the TV building, in front of the presidential palace, I think all the key symbols of what’s left of the regime’s power are slowly crumbling.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you both for being with us, Anjali Kamat and Sharif Abdel Kouddous, our producers, correspondents, on the ground in Cairo. And they have been amazing in reporting in. We are posting their audio reports through the weekend, their blogs, their tweets. So go to democracynow.org, as we talk to people throughout the weekend, all through Egypt.

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