Nobel peace laureate and Egyptian opposition politician Mohamed ElBaradei has arrived in Cairo as anti-government protests continue to spread. A Bedouin protester was shot dead in the Sinai region on Thursday, bringing this week’s death toll to seven. There were also protests in the cities of Cairo, Suez and Ismailiya. The governing party says it is willing to listen to public grievances such as unemployment but has cracked down on protests, arresting up to 1,000 people. Speaking on his arrival in Cairo, Mr ElBaradei said he would join the protests. Anchor Marco Werman gets an update on the anti-government protests from The World’s Matthew Bell in Cairo. Download MP3
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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman and this is The World. Anti-government protesters in Egypt now have a prominent spokesman. He’s Mohammed ElBaradei, the former head of the U.N. nuclear agency. Since leaving that post in 2000, ElBaradei has become an advocate for political reform and his native Egypt. That puts him at odds with the man who has run Egypt for almost 30 years, President Hosni Mubarak. And today ElBaradei said it’s time for Mubarak to go. Then the former U.N. diplomat flew back to Egypt from his home in Austria and promised protesters that he’ll join them on the streets of Cairo tomorrow.
Mohammed ElBaradei: As I told them always I’m an agent for change if they’d like to see me as a symbol for change, but change will only come when they do it themselves. And they have done that and I have to be with them and provide them the special political support, political speak in the name, and try to manage in a way as I said, in a way that would lead Egypt through a smooth transition.
Werman: That’s the former U.N. diplomat, Mohammed ElBaradei, a self-described agent for change who flew back to Egypt today. The World’s Matthew Bell is in Cairo as well. Matthew, what’s the reaction there since ElBaradei’s arrival?
Matthew Bell: Well, there’s certainly a lot of media attention, Marco, and I guess there was a bit of a scene at the airport when he landed, with police trying to keep reporters away and from the entrance, and then from the sort of angling to get in and see his arrival. It’s a big deal in one respect. In another respect he is an important politician, but he’s kind of an unknown quantity. And I talked to one Egyptian man today who was complaining and saying look, who is this guy? He’s been flying around the world. He’s been doing international diplomacy. He hasn’t been in Egypt. And I guess that’s sort of the knock against him is that he really hasn’t been here in recent years. He is known around the world, but Egyptians are wondering what he stands for.
Werman: Do you get the sense that his meer presence has given the protesters additional juice?
Bell: That’s a great question. It’s hard to say. You know, today was pretty quiet. My drive from the airport this afternoon into the center of town, you could see a few police here and there. When I got into the center of town you could see signs of what has gone on this week with some riot police and police vehicles. But things were really quiet. I did go to one demonstration today that was at the Journalist Syndicate, a ministry building in the center of town. There were a couple hundred protesters. There was a lot of noise, but really they were outnumbered by riot police and surrounded by them as well.
Werman: Were you able to speak with any of the protesters?
Bell: I did. I went in and talked to one young woman and asked her what are people chanting, what do they want. And here’s what she said:
Woman: We want Hosni Mubarak and the whole government to be removed and we want the whole system to be changed, removed in one…the whole system to be changed, new actors, new system, new government, everything.
Werman: They want a full sea change there it sounds. How likely is that right now? Does it feel like that’s even a remote possibility?
Bell: Well, I think the protests on Tuesday everyone is talking about really took the government by surprise. And when I ask people about what is the government reaction, they’re just not sure yet. The government seems to be a bit stunned. The response on the street to the demonstrations was eventually one that was pretty brutal. There were many arrests. They were several people killed, many people injured. The anticipation here of course is for tomorrow. Protest organizers say that tomorrow could be big demonstrations. Friday is the Islamic day of prayer and people have the work day off, that could be a factor. You’ve got ElBaradei here. The other fact, Marco, is that the Muslim Brotherhood, which is probably the second most powerful political actor in Egypt has said that they are gonna join the protests tomorrow so that could be big.
Werman: The World’s Matthew Bell in Cairo. Thanks a lot, Matthew.
Bell: You’re welcome, Marco.
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