We go live to Cairo to speak with Democracy Now! senior producer Sharif Abdel Kouddous. “Thousands of strikes are happening all across Egypt,” Kouddous says. “That is really putting a stranglehold on the Mubarak regime.” [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: We go now to Cairo, where we’re joined by Democracy Now! senior producer Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Democracy Now! correspondent Anjali Kamat.
Welcome back, Sharif and Anjali.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Thank you for having us, Juan.
AMY GOODMAN: And can you tell us what’s happening at this moment?
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, right now, behind us, there’s people streaming over the Kasr al-Nile Bridge, streaming over the 6 October Bridge, streaming into Tahrir from all directions from Cairo. I just came from there. It’s packed with tens of thousands of people, as it has been for many days now. Just a few hundred yards from us, thousands have occupied the streets and are blocking the entrance to the state TV building, which is essentially a propaganda arm of the Mubarak regime. Hundreds, if not thousands, are marching towards the presidential palace in Heliopolis to stage a sit-in and a protest there.
And so, we’re seeing a mass day of demonstration in Cairo, the people’s response to Mubarak’s third speech last night, where he refused to step down after really much anticipation and much — people really thought that he was going to step down, especially after these mixed messages that came out from the military, indications from the CIA from Leon Panetta. It just seemed like it was going to be the night. And Tahrir was absolutely packed yesterday. People were standing shoulder to shoulder. It was very hard to move around, as packed as I’ve ever seen it.
When Mubarak spoke, you could hear a pin drop. His voice came crackling over the loudspeakers. People were huddled over listening to their headsets and radios, trying to hear what he had to say. And then, as it became clear that he was not going to step down, people started shouting, and in a display of contempt for what he had to say, many hundreds held up their shoes in the air in disgust at what he had to say. And then we saw anger, but not rioting or anything like that, but a controlled anger, and just utter disappointment. I mean, people, their voices are hoarse from rallying for 18 days now and calling for this president to step down. And the tone — a lot of people were very angry at the tone that he used, as well, a very scolding and just very accusatory tone that he used, and the language that he used. And it seems he does not understand the call by the protesters here, the call by this popular uprising here, and that he keeps giving these so-called concessions, appointing a vice president, reshuffling the cabinet, transferring powers to the vice president. None of these concessions meet any, even the most minimum, of demands of the protesters. I think we have to make that very clear.
And another thing that’s happened is we’ve seen throughout, from when this started, the Mubarak regime has used different kinds of tactics to try and quell this uprising. They tried to send their Interior Ministry, the state security apparatus, to stop the people in the streets on January 25th and January 28th. That failed. The people beat them and took over Tahrir, took the streets of Cairo. Then they tried to remove the police force from Cairo. They did that, even from its own police stations. There were no police anywhere. They let loose prisoners from the jails, and they tried to foment a situation of chaos in Cairo. That was overcome with these popular neighborhood committees that were set up in solidarity all across Cairo very quickly, and so that didn’t work. They tried a very intense propaganda campaign run by the state TV center, which is just a couple of hundred yards from here, trying to instigate violence, saying this is a foreign coup, things like that. That didn’t work. They sent in their thugs into Tahrir with camels and horses and rocks and Molotov cocktails and guns and bullets, and the people held firm, so that didn’t work. And so, they’ve tried all of these different strategies.
And the only thing that seems to happen is, people come closer and closer together, and the numbers seem to swell. As we’ve said before on Democracy Now!, organized labor has joined this revolution. And there’s thousands of strikes happening across all of Egypt. And that’s really putting a stranglehold on the Mubarak regime. It’s really putting the pressure on Mubarak. Many thought that it might put the pressure on the protesters, because the economy is suffering. I don’t think that’s happening. I think the pressure is coming down on him, and it’s only increasing.
And so, we’ve seen all of these things happen. People are very frustrated that after 18 days there seems to be no — the President doesn’t seem to understand anything that’s happening in the country whatsoever. However, they are resolute, and they are — it’s amazing to see there’s absolutely no fear in Tahrir. There’s no fear of a crackdown. Even if one comes, they’re confident that this is going to work. And I think that — it’s been 18 days. He’s been in power 30 years. They’re determined to stay longer and wait for him to go. They say it took Tunis a month, and they wanted to beat Tunis to the mark, but I think it’s going to take some time longer. But I don’t think this is going to quell anything.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And Sharif, what about the situation with the military? Is there any change in their deployment or their attitude toward the growing crowds, not only in Tahrir Square, but now throughout Cairo and the rest of Egypt?
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: You know, Juan, it’s confusing with the military. They don’t seem to have deployed differently. They haven’t blocked people from marching to the People’s Assembly building and camping out there. They haven’t stopped people from marching to the presidential palace and camping out there. Despite the fact — people are very — they feel the military won’t harm them, despite the fact that the military has jailed hundreds, if not thousands, of activists. There’s been allegations of torture, as well. Having said that, the military has encroached a little bit in parts of Tahrir. And what you see when you’re walking out of Tahrir, at the foot of the tanks in certain areas, people have laid blankets and are sleeping at the foot of the tanks, determined not to let the military move in any closer. But there seems to be no hostility from the military. But having said that, again, we must say this with a waiver, that they are arresting people. Activists are being arrested. Journalists are being arrested and being tortured by the military. I don’t think the story is getting out enough. But having said that, people are confident that the military, in the end, will side with them.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined on the phone right now, not far from where you are standing, by Nawal El Saadawi, a well-known Egyptian feminist and writer, has entered her 80th year, well known throughout Egypt, imprisoned under Sadat.