© 2023 WFSU Public Media
WFSU News · Tallahassee · Panama City · Thomasville
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Egyptians Divide As They Celebrate Together


This was an eventful week in Egypt. The country's first freely elected parliament in six decades opened for business, while hundreds of thousands of Egyptians used protests to mark the first anniversary of the uprising that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak. But deepening political divisions between pro-Islamist and secular protesters erupted into violent scuffles, marring the commemoration of last year's revolution.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Cairo. Soraya, thanks for being with us.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: You're welcome. Good morning.

SIMON: Good morning. Help s understand what the new protests are all about?

NELSON: Well, if you talk to the secular and the liberal types who turned out, they are very much determined to make the ruling generals - they've, of course, formed a council that is basically the group that's in charge until transition to democracy is completed. And what they want is that these generals need to step aside now. They want them to hand over power to the newly elected parliament and to perhaps even another civilian authority that might be selected from the people just to get them out of the way because they feel that they're taking a lot of steps to try and stay in power, basically. So, and these protesters are very determined to keep the momentum going that they created last year with the uprising that, of course, ousted Mubarak.

SIMON: And the Islamists have a different agenda?

NELSON: Yes. They, on the other hand, would like to give the ruling generals a chance to fulfill their pledge to step aside after presidential elections next summer. They're also very focused on the parliament. They would like the parliament to be able to begin business and they think the time for protests have passed.

SIMON: The ruling military generals have also drawn some fire from U.S. officials with their attacks on non-governmental organizations and pro-democracy groups. And, of course, we're following the story - in this country especially - of authorities there preventing 10 Americans and Europeans, who were involved in such groups from leaving - including the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. What's the latest status?

NELSON: Well, Sam LaHood, the son of the U.S. transportation secretary, he spoke with me last night and he is very concerned that he and others may face trial here. What the government here is saying is that these foreign groups are operating here illegally. And, in fact, the ruling generals have also said that there are foreign elements behind these protests that are continuing, that this is somehow being instigated from outside which, of course, is something that these groups deny vehemently having anything to do with. They're here to, you know, promote democracy but not in an active way. I mean, in fact, LaHood's group was one of the groups that was doing monitoring of the elections that just went on.

SIMON: Mm-hmm. But no indication yet of when they might be released, or for that matter, charged.

NELSON: No. There wasn't any word yesterday. And continued talks between U.S. officials and the Egyptians have not resulted in an end to this stalemate or this travel ban.

SIMON: Soraya, what comes next in Egypt's transformation?

NELSON: Well, tomorrow is the first phase of the upper house elections. Now, unlike the lower house of parliament, this is a weaker body but nevertheless, these are the first real elections for that body in many, many decades. And so it'll be interesting to see whether people turn out in the great numbers they did for parliament. There already seems to be some voter fatigue, if you will, during the last round because there were so many elections and runoffs and it just went on and on for a couple of months. So that begins tomorrow. And then presidential elections will be held later this summer. That's what people are really paying attention to.

The concern is that you don't want someone back in power who is going to try to gather all that power around them the way Mubarak did. I mean this is a big fear that people have, is that if you end up with a super-strong president then you may end up with yet another dictatorship that lasts for three decades.

SIMON: Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Cairo. Thanks so much.

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

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.