A massive week-long demonstration continues in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in perhaps the largest rallies in the five months since the uprising that led to the fall of former president, Hosni Mubarak. Protests have also been held in the coastal cities of Alexandria and Suez. The protesters are calling for all the demands of the Egyptian revolution to be met, including a wider purge of members of the Mubarak’s regime. Yesterday, 30 men armed with knives and sticks stormed the protesters’ tent camp at the square, wounding six. Egypt’s army has called on protesters to stop the demonstrations, only to draw a large protest in Tahrir last night. Speaking from Cairo, Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous says, “The Egyptian revolution has reached a critical turning point. This is not what people fought for, this is not what people died for, in this revolution. And that’s why people have taken to the streets.” [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to what is happening in Egypt, a massive demonstration once again underway in Tahrir Square in Cairo, perhaps the largest in the last five months since the uprising that led to the fall of the former dictator, Hosni Mubarak. Protests have also been held in coastal cities of Alexandria and Suez.
For nearly a week, Egyptian protesters have camped out in Tahrir. The protesters are calling for all the demands of the Egyptian revolution to be met, including a wider purge of members of Hosni Mubarak’s regime. Several dozen protesters are also continuing a hunger strike, vowing to continue until their demands are met. The protesters dismissed the offer from Prime Minister Essam Sharaf on Monday to reshuffle his cabinet this week.
For more, we go to Cairo, where Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous joins us live. We talked to you last week, Sharif, where this was the beginning of the largest protest since January and February. Talk about what’s happening now.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, Amy, I really think the Egyptian revolution has reached a critical turning point, and we’re seeing—we’re bracing now for a showdown between the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, which has ruled the country since February 11th when Mubarak stepped down, and to the thousands, the tens of thousands of protesters that have taken to the streets across the country.
Tahrir has really—it’s entering the sixth day of a sit-in that’s reminiscent of the one that captured the world’s attention back in January and February. And there’s sit-ins being staged in Alexandria and Suez and Mansoura. And as you said, the heart of the matter really lies in the fact that the basic demands, the very basic demands, of the revolution have gone unfilled, with little indication that there’s a path for any real kind of change, that the calls for justice and accountability for members of the former regime have gone unanswered, that the revolutionary demands—one of the cries, the main cries, was "Bread, freedom and social justice"—have all but been abandoned. And on Friday, as you said, we saw this massive protest take place in Tahrir and across Egypt.
But what really happened since then is that this sit-in has continued to grow in Tahrir. Every day, there are more and more tents. There’s more structures being built. And yesterday, the Supreme Council finally—people have been waiting for them to give any kind of indication that [inaudible] any kind of [inaudible]—they finally spoke yesterday, with a very provocative and dismissive statement saying that Egypt was facing a planned and organized attempt to disrupt the country’s stability. And the general, Mohsen El-Fangary, said the Council—he was wagging his finger while he was doing it, there’s a lot of people are speaking about this—will take any and every action to confront and stop the threats surrounding the country.
So, the response to that last night was a huge turnout in Tahrir. I haven’t seen it that packed since the January and February sit-in that happened. Many, many thousands of people were there last night, and that was a direct response to that statement. And there was a big march that happened on Qasr El-Aini Street to the Council of Ministers, to the parliament, where people—I have never heard calls like this, this widespread, this loud, directly against Tantawi, Field Marshal Tantawi, who ruled—who’s effectively the head of the country right now, calls directly against the Supreme Council.
And one of the other things that really was another blow to the demands of the revolution for economic and social justice, there was the final draft of the 2011 budget was recently released. And in it, in a bid to reduce the deficit in Egypt, there were huge cuts to social spending in Egypt, and a lowering of the proposed minimum wage had been—they had proposed to raise it to 700 pounds a month, which is under $120. That was lowered to about 684 pounds. And so, this came at the—they could have—many argue the deficit could have been reduced by taxing real estate, by introducing a progressive tax. But we’re seeing things that we see in other parts of the world with these austerity [inaudible]. This is not what people fought for, this is not what people died for, in this revolution. And that’s why people have taken to the streets. And they are determined not to leave right now Tahrir. And so, it’s a bit of a tense situation because of what the army said yesterday in its provocative statement.
AMY GOODMAN: And the level of violence and what you fear, Sharif?
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, yesterday we saw an attack on the square. There was a group of armed men, some wielding swords, tried to attack the square. They were overcome. Two of them were detained, and one of them was handed over to police, although there was a lot of argument over whether to hand people over to the very institutions that they’re protesting against. There’s a lot of security around the square, a lot of it organized by the April 6 Movement, but a lot of it organized just by the people themselves there. They take shifts in organizing these popular committees, where they pat people down and so forth.
The fear is, is that it is extremely hot in Egypt right now, in summer—
AMY GOODMAN: Five seconds.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And so, the fear is that violence may ensue, but people are determined to stay in the square until demands are met.
AMY GOODMAN: Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Democracy Now! correspondent, speaking to us from Cairo.