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Egyptians Look Back On 1 Year Since The Revolution


In Cairo today, Tahrir Square and surrounding streets are overflowing with demonstrators marking the first anniversary of an uprising that drove from power then-President Hosni Mubarak. Of course a lot has changed for Egyptians since that revolution. They elected their first free parliament in six decades. Islamists, long banned by Mubarak, are now the country's main political force.

We reached NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, who was amid the massive crowds there in the square. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: Tell us what you're seeing.

NELSON: Oh, it's a throng of humanity, blocking every square inch of the square, with people coming out not necessarily to celebrate the anniversary but to protest that things aren't moving in the direction of democracy as quickly and as broadly as they'd like to see.

MONTAGNE: What about the government and its role in this big anniversary?

NELSON: Well, they weren't – I should say the ruling military council and the government had planned some activities, or at least announced them a little bit earlier in the week. There was supposed to be a rally at a local stadium. There were supposed to be military jets flying overhead. And none of that has materialized today thus far. It seems that a speech last night by Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi in which he said he was partially lifting the state of emergency law which is very much hated here and gives the security forces wide-reaching powers, that was the only announcement, although Tantawi also talked about the military's contribution to the revolution and how dear they hold it in their heart.

So it's been kind of strange. It seems that the commemorations today, which again, are more protest than celebration, are being done on a popular, spontaneous level.

MONTAGNE: Soraya, you mentioned the government has stayed away so far from today's march and protest. Remind us of Egypt's ruling structure now. It's something of a hybrid.

NELSON: That's correct. There is a ruling military council, basically a group of generals who were around during former President Mubarak's time that are now overseeing the transition to democracy. They appointed a cabinet of various officials, some of them from the Mubarak regime, former Mubarak regime. And then you have the elected parliament, which has convened - which just convened a couple days ago. And so it's sort of a jostling going on. The parliament would like to see power ceded to them, since they are popularly elected. But the military rulers are determined to stay around at least through July, after the presidential elections take place.

MONTAGNE: And Soraya, you are speaking to us from a big demonstration in Tahrir Square. But I gather that a recent Gallop poll there found that 93 percent of Egyptians, a really high number, feel more protests are bad for the country.

NELSON: Yes, because the economy is weakening. Tourists are staying away. And every time you do have prolonged protests, there ends up being violence with the military. And so people are sort of feeling it's time to get back to work, it's time to let the elected parliament do its work. And so a lot of people who are not necessarily here today are saying it's time for the protests to end.

But there are still many more who would like to see them continue, certainly evidenced in the number of people we're seeing at Tahrir Square today.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, speaking to us from Cairo on the first anniversary of Egypt's revolution. Thanks very much.

NELSON: You're welcome, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson
Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.