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Thousands Protest in Egypt in Largest Popular Challenge to Mubarak in 30 Years

StoryJanuary 26, 2011
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Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets across Egypt in the largest popular challenge to longtime President Hosni Mubarak since he came into office 30 years ago. Drawing inspiration from the recent uprising in Tunisia, an estimated crowd of 15,000 packed Cairo’s Tahrir Square. We go to Cairo to speak with independent journalist and blogger, Hossam el-Hamalawy. [includes rush transcript]

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

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Egypt, where tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets across Egypt in the largest popular challenge to longtime president Hosni Mubarak since he came into office 30 years ago. Drawing inspiration from the recent uprising in Tunisia, an estimated crowd of 15,000 people packed Cairo’s Tahrir Square. The demonstrators were forcibly removed from the square at around 1:00 a.m. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets, filling the square with a cloud of smoke and chasing protesters into nearby streets. Protests were also held in the port city of Alexandria and the northeastern city of Suez. Three people were killed in the unrest: protesters and a police officer.

We go now to Cairo, where we’re joined by independent journalist and blogger Hossam el-Hamalawy. He was at the protest yesterday.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Can you describe what has happened in these almost unprecedented protests, Hossam?

HOSSAM EL-HAMALAWY: Well, it’s an honor to be on your show. And I think I need to make it clear in the beginning that I was not in Tahrir Square yesterday, but I was monitoring the situation and following it with my fellow journalists and activists on the ground.

Egypt yesterday witnessed its strongest protests in probably four decades, since 1977, where tens of thousands have taken to the streets in virtually all the cities of our country, chanting against Mubarak, chanting against the U.S., which is backing Mubarak, calling for internal reforms and for democracy. Others were chanting for a revolution and saluting the Tunisian people.

The police have responded with iron-fist tactics we’re used to, although they showed some self-restraint in the first few hours, by using rubber bullets and tear gas and mass arrests against the protesters both in Cairo and in other provinces. As I am talking to you now, there are at least 200 political detainees locked up in the notorious state security facility in Nasr City. The government has blocked Twitter and has blocked, just in less than an hour ago, Facebook and has blocked yesterday also Bambuser, which is an online live-streaming video platform on the internet.

These protests, more or less, have settled down after midnight. But today, more protests took place around the Press Syndicate and the Lawyers’ Syndicate in downtown Cairo. And we’re receiving reports that the secretary-general of the syndicate, of the Press Syndicate, Galal Aref, has been detained. There are also waves of arrests for activists in the Nile Delta, both in Tanta and in Mahalla. The government, fearing similar unrest to what happened in April 2008 in Mahalla, had actually given the Mahalla workers yesterday a vacation, a holiday. And today they’ve let them leave work pretty early. But the situation is still tense. Those demonstrations were spontaneous, and we expect that they will be resumed anytime soon, because the reasons for which those protests have broken out are still there.

AMY GOODMAN: Something went around Twitter very quickly yesterday, Hossam. I wanted to ask if you know if this is true: the son of Mubarak, who was considered a possibility for running, has left with his family to London. Have you heard about this?

HOSSAM EL-HAMALAWY: We have heard about those rumors, but I can’t really confirm them.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the effects of Tunisia, the uprising there, on what’s happened in Egypt and about what Secretary of State Clinton said, that Egypt is stable.

HOSSAM EL-HAMALAWY: Revolutions spread by the domino effect. And the Tunisian revolution against Ben Ali proved to be a major source of inspiration to the Egyptian people, in the same way that Egyptian dissent over the past five years has proven also to be a catalyst for other Arab people to step up their fight against their dictators and also in the same fashion that the Palestinian intifada in 2000 steered the Arab street into action. We are living in the age of satellite TV stations and the age of social media. Whenever dissent explodes in one area, the imagery can be transmitted to other areas. And people here in Egypt can draw parallels between Ben Ali and Mubarak. We don’t have only one Ben Ali in the Arab world; we have 22 Ben Alis, and they all need to go. And the chants yesterday that the people were chanting in Cairo and in the provinces were very similar to the chants that our Tunisian brothers and sisters have been chanting over the past few weeks in their uprising. We salute their struggle, and we hope that we can pay them back by overthrowing our dictator.

AMY GOODMAN: Hossam el-Hamalawy, I thank you very much for being with us. Of course, we will continue to follow what is happening throughout Egypt right now, not to mention what is happening in Tunisia.

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