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Live from Cairo: Democracy Now!’s Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Anjali Kamat on Egypt’s “Farewell Friday”

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Massive demonstrations are being held in cities across Egypt, including Cairo, Mahalla, Tanta, Alexandria, Ismailia and Suez. In Cairo, protesters have expanded their rallies beyond Tahrir Square to several government buildings, including the presidential palace, the parliament and the offices of Egyptian state television. We get a live report from Cairo with Democracy Now!’s Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Anjali Kamat. [includes rush transcript]

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

AMY GOODMAN: We want to bring in our colleagues in Cairo right now. It is not easy to get to the studio with the masses of people who are converging on Tahrir Square. We’re joined right now by Democracy Now! senior producer Sharif Abdel Kouddous and also Democracy Now! correspondent Anjali Kamat. And they’ve been in different places through Cairo.

Welcome, both. Sharif, where did you just come from?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Amy, I just came from Tahrir Square. There’s tens of thousands of people there, hundreds of thousands. It’s very packed. And what’s happening today is the people of Egypt, people in Cairo and cities across Egypt, are issuing their response to Mubarak’s speech last night. People have told me it’s the worst of the three speeches that he’s given, and I think they’re more resolute than ever.

What’s happened now is people have taken — Anjali can talk about this to a higher degree, but people have camped out now in front of the state TV building, which is essentially propaganda arm of the regime. They’re also marching to the presidential palace. Several hundred are there. It seems like many thousands more are headed there, and as they took, earlier this week, the building in front of the People’s Assembly. So, you know, they’re marching across Cairo. And it remains to be seen what’s going to happen in these coming days.

The military — I’m not sure how much you talked about this earlier in the program. The military issued another statement today, again equivocal, saying that they’re going to support the people’s demands, but it’s unclear what that means. It seems like Mubarak wants a standoff between the protesters and himself, and that’s exactly what he’s getting. Every tactic that the Mubarak regime tries, from brutality, from propaganda, and giving up so-called concessions, which don’t meet any of the protesters’ demands, simply builds the solidarity amongst the protesters to a greater degree. So we’re seeing the numbers swell. We’ve seen organized labor join the revolution. We’re seeing many different kinds of classes joining the revolution. And so, we’re just going to have to see what develops today as people pour out into the streets of Cairo.

But Anjali, you were at Maspero yesterday, which is the name of the state TV building, which is literally right around the corner from where we’re staying. Anjali went there last night, marched out of Tahrir after the speech.

ANJALI KAMAT: That’s right. Sharif and Amy, hi. Last night after the speech, the enormous crowds at Tahrir were incredibly disappointed and furious, enraged by Mubarak’s speech and Omar Suleiman’s speech that followed. And one group of protesters began marching, literally running out of the square towards the television building, the state television building, which is right on the Nile, just a couple buildings down from where we are right now. There were a few thousand there last night. This morning, the has swelled. There’s about 10,000 people outside the TV building, all shouting, pointing at the TV building, saying, “These people are the liars. These are the liars who are spreading lies about us, about the protesters in the square, the people who are demanding democracy, who are demanding freedom.”

You know, President Mubarak’s speech last night, coming as it did after a confusing set of announcements from the army, where it seemed for a few hours that perhaps the army might take over, perhaps Mubarak might resign, the crowd was jubilant last night. You know, it seemed like all of Cairo was on the streets celebrating in advance, waiting for this announcement of resignation. And instead, what they got was a dictator really digging his heels in and refusing to step down, really offering piecemeal reforms at a time when this is not what people really have spent the past two, two-and-a-half weeks out in the streets for.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Anjali, this is Juan Gonzalez. I wanted to ask you about the — specifically about the state TV, because one of the bizarre aspects of Mubarak’s speech yesterday was how he basically, at the very beginning, conceded the legitimacy and the heroism of the protesters, which was in direct contradiction to what his own TV stations were constantly putting out, that this was all agents inspired by foreign elements seeking to destabilize the government. Are the protesters now blocking access to this TV station? And it seems to me that because Mubarak did concede that, that this is in essence telling the Egyptian people, “Our state TV has been lying to you for the last couple of weeks.” That’s got to begin to bring more people into action, really, because they’re saying also, “Those of us who believed what we were listening to on state TV are now being told by Mubarak, it’s not true.”

ANJALI KAMAT: Yeah, that’s right. I mean, yesterday and all of this week, you’ve seen more and more people from within state television resign and come out onto the streets and protest what their own television stations are telling the people. So this is a time when a lot of the institutions sort of holding up the Mubarak regime are also beginning to crumble. People from within the regime are starting to speak out, despite threats of intimidation. So I think it was, you know, inevitable that Mubarak had to concede some of that last night in his speech.

But, you know, I read some reports that this morning one of the people on state TV apologized that they didn’t have enough guests, because no one was able to enter the building. There’s thousands of people outside. There’s a lot of presidential guards guarding the actual TV building, but also regular military are out in full force. And people are raising a number of slogans and just absolutely furious. I mean, the energy outside the TV building is electric. And I think people really want to see perhaps a third announcement from the military today. The military earlier this morning did make an announcement — you probably mentioned that earlier in the show — but really didn’t say anything about the conflicting message that we heard from the President last night. So people are hoping there’s going to be a third message from the military, and maybe this one will be better suited to the demands of the people.

AMY GOODMAN: And this sense, Anjali, of this question of “are we leading to a military coup?” — communiqué one yesterday, communiqué two this morning, as you said. And I was speaking to you right after Mubarak gave his speech, and, Anjali, you were following that crowd of thousands, going to state television, and then you had to put the phone down because the military was checking your ID as you went toward it, saying — they were saying to you, “No foreigners”? Is that right?

ANJALI KAMAT: Yeah, when we were coming in, there seemed to be a moment where the military was saying, “Foreigners aren’t allowed in here.” So, you know, there was a moment of nervousness. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to get in, but I managed to slip in somehow, and they didn’t ask for my ID. But for a while, there weren’t any foreigners there. But later on, I did see a few foreign journalists come in with cameras. So they did eventually allow in some international reporters.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to break. I just want to let you guys know, because I know you don’t have access to this there in Cairo right now, right off of Tahrir Square. But the NDP, right, the ruling party website seems to have been hacked. It now reads in Arabic, “Closed until dropping Mubarak and the regime.”

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. We’re joined by many, including Democracy Now!'s own Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Anjali Kamat in Cairo. Today is an epic day, the largest day of protest in Egypt's history, not only in Cairo, but around the country. And when we come back, we’re going to find out about Egypt’s most famous blogger, Kareem Amer. And word just got out, he has been released. No one knew what happened to him after Sunday. We’re going to speak to one of his friends. Stay with us.

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Post-Mubarak: What Will Egypt Look Like the Day After the Regime Ends?

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