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Tahrir Square, February 4, 2011, 5.30am

Interviewee: Islam El Tahtawey is a 23 years old Egyptian opposition demonstrator, a junior auditor in Cairo. 

Conroy Shuer
10 February 2011

Can you tell me where in Cairo you are right now?

Right now I am in the middle of the Tahrir Square. It is 5:30 in the morning and I am here with thousands of people getting ready for the demonstrations. There are all types of people from different age groups here.

How can you describe the atmosphere in Tahrir Square?

The atmosphere is good and calm. We are getting ready for the demonstrations. We are ready to help each other. We are ready for anything that happens. We are ready to fight and defend our beliefs in any way, by throwing stones, together, in any way! We want Mubarak to leave.

You mentioned there are thousands of people in Tahrir Square. Are they mainly opposition groups or can you see any of the supporters of the Mubarak regime as well?

Oh no, there is none of them in Tahrir Square right now. Yesterday you could see Mubarak supporters in the streets. There were many of them. But right now in Tahrir Square you can’t see any of them.

There were concerning reports about clashes in Tahrir Square in the past two days. Are you worried?

Yes, there have been many severe clashes. People were fighting each other. There was violence. But this is not because of us Egyptians. This can happen anywhere in the world. I don’t want it to happen. I don’t want to see Egyptians fight each other. This should stop. We should be peaceful. But right now in Tahrir Square nothing is going on.  

Do you think supporters of President Mubarak are in any way sponsored by the government?

I talked about this with many people in Tahrir Square. They have different opinions about it. Many think people close to Mubarak organized them. They think Mubarak wasn’t directly involved: but people close to him helped to organize the demonstrations in his favour. I saw those demonstrators myself. Face to face. They were the type of people that didn’t have any money. You could easily pay them and bring them here. People are saying that the supporters of Mubarak got paid to come here and demonstrate.

What do you hope to achieve from these demonstrations?

Mubarak has been president of Egypt for thirty years now. We want him to leave. It is enough. We want to have freedom and democracy in Egypt. 

So you are not satisfied with President Mubarak’s recent speech in which he promised not to participate in the upcoming elections?

No. In the past we had elections too. He didn’t leave and stayed in power. We don’t want him anymore. We want him to leave. The majority of the people in Tahrir Square want him to leave right now.

Today President Mubarak argued that his immediate resignation will cause chaos while power is handed over in Egpyt. Do you think he is right?

Mubarak staying in power is causing chaos. We don’t want him any more. If he leaves, we will all go back to our houses and everything will be normal again.

What about the majority of the Egyptian people? Do they want him to leave right now as well?

The people in Tahrir Square want him to leave. But I don’t think the majority of the Egyptians want that. I talked to my family. They want Mubarak to stay. Lots of people are happy with him staying in power until the elections. Rich people want Mubarak to stay. They have money and comfort. They don’t care about change. They don’t understand what it means to be free in your country. If you, as a foreigner, walk around the city the police won’t bother you. But they are not like that to us Egyptians. They check us all the time. This is a small example of the inequality in Egypt.

How about the newly appointed Vice President, Omar Suleiman? Do you want him to leave immediately or would you accept his authority for now?

We accept Suleiman for now. He is not our main concern. The main concern of the people in Tahrir Square is Mubarak. We want him to leave. We don’t want him or his son to be in power.

What do you think about the stance of the Egyptian army? Do you think they took any sides during the recent revolts? Do you expect them to support you and other opposition demonstrators?

The army didn’t take any sides. They don’t want to stand in the middle of a conflict between us and the supporters of Mubarak. They don’t want to be in between two groups of Egyptians and open fire at them.

Do you expect them to do something to support the opposition?

Yes, I hope they will do something to make Tahrir Square safe for us. Today it took me about three hours to get into Tahrir Square. The army was checking everyone. I heard that they won’t allow the Mubarak supporters to enter Tahrir Square. I hope they will do more to support us today.

What about the international community? Do you expect any support from other countries, such as the United States and the European Union governments?

I don’t want any country in the world to interfere.  Egypt is my home. I don’t want any other country to decide for us. None of the Egyptians want that. This is an internal matter. We expect them to ask Mubarak to leave, but we don’t want them to interfere. 

What kind of government do you want to rule Egypt after Mubarak?

We want a government that gives us democracy and freedom. We have to see what different candidates have to offer. We have to think about their plans hundred times before we choose them.

Among the opposition political parties, the Muslim Brotherhood appears as the most organized party. In fact, many in the West are concerned that this Islamic group might gain power after Mubarak is gone. Do you think they are popular among the protestors?

I don’t think the majority of the people want the Muslim Brotherhood to take power. We all want democracy right now and not a certain political party. In the future elections some might vote for Muslim Brotherhood. Why not? It is their right. It is their decision. This is what democracy is all about. But right now, I don’t think Muslim Brotherhood is very popular among the majority of the protestors.

A notable political figure among the oppositions is Mohammed El Baradei. Do you think he is a popular character among the ordinary demonstrators?

I talked to a lot of people in Tahrir Square about Elbaradei. A lot of people admire him, but also a lot of people don’t want him. He has spent a lot of his life out of Egypt. So many people think that he is not one of us.

For decades, President Mubarak has been maintaining a peaceful relationship with Israel. Would you want the next Egyptian government to change this relationship and take more actions against Israel?

I respect the Israeli culture and intelligence. Because of different circumstances many people in Egypt don’t like Israel. I used to be like that. But after I met Jewish people and got to know their culture, I totally changed. The majority of Egyptians want peace more than they dislike Israel. We want to have peace with any nation that wants to have peace with us.

I understand that you want Mubarak to leave immediately, but he is still in power. How long are you going to continue demonstrating?

We want Mubarak we leave right now, but I am afraid that the people in Tahrir Square might eventually leave. We are under all kinds of pressures. My family is calling me every day, asking me to return home. I don’t want to leave, but we are all exhausted here. I hope Mubarak leaves before all the people in Tahrir Square get tired and return to their homes. I hope today with the Friday prayers we get more people to demonstrate and pressure Mubarak to leave immediately. Young people always wanted change in Egypt, but nobody believed in our ability to make a change in Mubarak’s government. After the demonstrations we have gained so much respect among the Egyptians. I hope we can force Mubarak to leave right now. 

 

Tahrir Square, Februrary 9, 2010, 8.00 pm

Where are you right now?

I just left Tahrir Square.

How was the atmosphere over there?

It was extremely crowded. Although lots of people have left because of the curfew, I think there were over a million people in Tahrir Square.

Compared to last week, do you believe that the number of protestors has reduced?

No, I actually think in the past few days the number of people in Tahrir Square has increased. The only problem is that you can’t find them all at the same time in Tahrir Square. People come and go. This makes it harder to estimate the real number of the demonstrators. But I think this Friday, due to the prayers, the number will increase significantly.

What about other areas of Cairo?

In Cairo, people are gathering only in Tahrir Square. Although I have heard that demonstrators in Alexandria are more spread in different squares. I haven’t been there myself. So I can’t confirm it.

Do you think the demonstrations are disturbing the daily lives of Egyptians at all?

I don’t think so. I go to work and buy my grocery the same way that I use to do before the demonstrations.

Is the security back to different districts of Cairo?

Some of the policemen have returned to their positions. So the streets feel safer, but we still have a lot of problems. In some areas, ordinary Egyptians still have to guard their streets.

Despite all the demonstrations, Mubarak hasn’t resigned. Do you have any plans to force him out of power?

Our plan is just continue demonstrating. We will not leave until he leaves. Trust me! I have seen the atmosphere in Tahrir Square and talked to many people. They are all convinced that they will not leave until Mubarak resigns. We are so motivated right now. We have been waiting for this moment for thirty years. The moment has come for Mubarak to step down. We will not lose this chance. Mubarak has tried to use the press and his speeches to convince us that he has to stay until the elections. But I think he is not succeeding. The number of those who want him to resign immediately is increasing. He has been abusing us for thirty years now. People don’t trust him anymore. I can assure you that people won’t have the same momentum to demonstrate, if Mubarak didn’t leave power at the end of his term. So we must stay until he leaves.

How is the official Egyptian media demonstrating the continuing protests?

In the beginning the Egyptian national television tried to tell the people that foreigners are behind the demonstrations and they want to destroy the Egyptian unity. That was because Mubarak wanted to hide the truth. But I think they have slightly changed their stance. They have seen that it is impossible to undermine the demonstrations. People were in contact with their families and constantly described the events in places like Tahrir Square. Also people can go to other news agencies, such as Aljazeera, or the internet to understand what is happening.

There are reports suggesting that the demonstrations are causing huge economic losses per day. Do you think the demonstrators are concerned about this matter at all?

I think the economical losses have been exaggerated. Most of the demonstrators go to work as well. So everywhere in Cairo life is functioning normally, expect in Tahrir Square. I understand that the stock market might be affected a lot from the demonstrations. But this is the cost of gaining freedom and democracy. 

How was the situation in Tahrir Square during Friday’s ‘departure day’ demonstrations?

It was a huge demonstration. Millions of people were in Tahrir Square. They were all opposing Mubarak. I think most of the people in Tahrir Square on Friday wanted Mubarak to leave immediately. But there are still some people who accept his presidency until the end of his term. Our main challenge is to convince those people to join us and pressure Mubarak to resign immediately. Also in the demonstrations you can always feel that there are secret police among the people. I think there will be a huge demonstration this Friday as well. Egyptians are using the Friday prayers as a sign of unity to pressure Mubarak. I am optimistic that we will force him out of power.

At the same time there are negotiations between President Mubarak’s government and the opposition parties. What are your expectations from these negotiations?

I have talked to many people in Tahrir Square. The majority of the people believe that none of those politicians represent the Egyptian people, unless they consider us a, the people, a priority. Their primary responsibility should be forcing Mubarak to resign. Afterwards, they can discuss other issues.

Historically, the Egyptian Army has had a significant role in the country’s politics. Do you think, in order to achieve a functional democracy, the role of the Army has to be limited?

I don’t think the army is in anyways in the way of an Egyptian democracy. Egyptians might hate their police, but we like the army. During the demonstrations, they didn’t attack us and in a way supported us. People feel very happy and secure when they see the army around Tahrir Square.

Which one of the notable politicians can you imagine as the possible president of Egypt after Mubarak?

I am hoping Amr Moussa will be our next president. He is really popular among the Egyptians. My only concern is his age. He is 74 years old. Otherwise, I think he is even more popular than Elbaradei.   

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