TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Kai Ryssdal: All day long, it was a game of will he or won’t he with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. He’ll meet protesters demands. He’ll resign. Even that he’ll leave the country.
In the end, he did none of those things and took his sweet time letting everybody know. A little bit before 11 p.m. Cairo time, President Mubarak did address his country. He’s transferring some powers to his hand-picked vice-president, but otherwise he said he’s staying until September.
We’ve reached Amira Ahmed — she’s the business editor at Daily News Egypt in Cairo — to get a sense of how the speech is going over. Amira, welcome to the broadcast.
Amira Ahmed: Thank you.
Ryssdal: Tomorrow being a day off, Friday in the Muslim world, what happens when the sun rises in Tahrir Square? What is the mood now and what’s it going to be like tomorrow morning?
Ahmed: There are thousands of people — and we don’t have an exact number estimate — but there are thousands of people in Tahrir now, if not hundreds of thousands. And they were all there. The mood was very celebratory a couple hours ago, in anticipation of him possibly stepping down. That didn’t happen of course, and so now the mood has turned very angry. Now the chants are calling again on him to leave, and chanting, the people want to bring down the regime, and they’re calling on the army to intervene. What happens is that people are going to probably be camped out in Tahrir all night, which has been happening for the past two weeks. But I think more people are going to stay the night tonight. And so tomorrow morning, either way, there were expected to be at least a million or two million people on the streets of Cairo alone. There are already protests going on right now in Alexandria that have just broke out. And more people are headed to Tahrir now to chant against the government.
Ryssdal: When does this political crisis become real economic hardship, though, Amira?
Ahmed: It already has. It started when the curfew was put in place, and banks were closed and the Stockholm market was closed. Things started opening up earlier this week on Sunday — it’s the beginning of the work week here in Egypt — with banks coming online, but the stock market was still closed. Stores started opening gradually, businesses started opening, factories started coming back online. But things are still very slow. Business is not as normal as it usually is. And in the past two days, what we’ve seen is a lot of people in public sector companies protesting, people in factories protesting, people in the West Canal area protesting. So now it’s even more broad than it was two weeks ago.
Ryssdal: With those labor unions striking and with government workers now striking, how much longer do you think it will take before the Egyptian economy really and truly becomes, gets shut down?
Ahmed: I’ve been talking to investment bankers and financial analysts and business owners, and certain people in the tourist industry — which has completely died, because of what’s happening — and the sentiment I’ve been getting is people don’t feel like the economy will start picking up again, and it will keep deteriorating as long as President Mubarak stays in power. And they don’t feel like it’s going to change until he leaves, and the people start seeing real change and culture and democracy being answered. But as it is now, if this continues, people are not going home; the demonstrators and the protestors are gaining ground among people who haven’t been protesting from day one. It’s drawing more crowds now. So this can only mean that the economy’s going to slow down even more.
Ryssdal: Obviously things are tense, and people are worried, but let me ask you this: Are you scared?
Ahmed: I’m not scared personally, no. The people in Tahrir are not scared, and I keep mentioning the people in Tahrir, but this is not the only place that protests are happening. This is where the mass demonstrations are, and it’s the focal point of what’s going on. But there are protests all over the country. People there don’t feel scared; they’re finding strength in numbers. They’ve defeated thugs that came in to attack the peaceful protestors a week ago, and we’ve already lost a lot of lives, and people just feel that there’s no turning back. The fear barrier has definitely been broken, and so the people are not going to back down from their demands, which are going to continue.
Ryssdal: Amira Ahmed, she’s the business editor at Daily News Egypt. We reached her in Cairo, after President Mubarak spoke this evening. Amira, thanks.
Ahmed: Thank you very much.
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