Tahrir Square Cleared of Protesters

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Lisa Mullins: Egypt's military has been in power since protestors drove Hosni Mubarak out of office in February. The armies promise to move Egypt toward democracy, but some Egyptians say the generals have moved too slowly on reforms and demonstrators reoccupied Tahrir Square in Cairo on July 8th. The army has offered some concessions, but today it took a more forceful stance. Army and police moved into the square and ejected several hundred remaining protestors. The World's Matthew Bell is in Cairo now. And, Matthew, we spoke to you on Friday about Egyptians who support hardline Islamic or Sharia law who were protesting out on the square, but the protestors that the military moved in on today are protesting something else. Who are they and why did the military move in on them?

Matthew Bell: That's right, Lisa. On Friday was the weekly Friday demonstrations that have gone on for about six months now. The demonstrators that were moved out today were several hundred people, mostly relatives of the so-called martyrs. These are the approximately 900 people who were killed during the revolutions, so there were the family members and then their supporters who wanted to put pressure on the military to move faster to reform, and also to move faster to prosecute those responsible for killing demonstrators during the revolution. What happened this afternoon were hundreds of police and army moved in mostly on foot, although there were some armored vehicles as well. Things happened very quickly. They went in and knocked over the tents. They even shredded up the material that the tents were made of. It seemed that they wanted to put and end to the sit-in and then make sure that these demonstrators didn't come back anytime soon.

Mullins: Now we understand there was actually a positive reaction to this from some people and vendors who live in the area. What was the reason that they applauded the military's move?

Bell: Well, the sit-in was disruptive and if you'd talk to people downtown, especially business owners, they would say look, this is a central artery. There were a lot of complaints about this making traffic worse, keeping people out of this commercial area. The truth is, Lisa, also that it wasn't just the merchants downtown that were getting sick of this demonstration. I've talked to people all around town, different kinds of people who say look, I support the revolution, I even like that these demonstrations have accomplished. Many people just told me that it's time for at least the barricades to be lifted and traffic to flow through the square. And that is even if they supported these martyrs' relatives right to stay down there and continue their demonstration in the tents.

Mullins: So what does that mean then for the public's tolerance of future demonstrations and the move toward reform in Egypt, especially given that Hosni Mubarak, the former president, is going to be standing trial in Cairo on Wednesday?

Bell: Right, that's a big date coming up here in a couple of days. I think that the tension between the army and the demonstrators has been building for several weeks now as this sit-in went on and on. I think the army just wanted to assert itself at a moment when actually a lot of the activists who supported the sit-in even have left in recent days. They decided that, today is the first day of Ramadan, they were concerned about complaints of the disruption, bad traffic, and a lot of them even left last night. So the numbers were smaller than they had been. I think the military just decided now is the time to go in and put and end to this thing.

Mullins: All right, The World's Matthew Bell in Cairo. Thank you, Matthew.

Bell: You're welcome, Lisa.

Mullins: Matthew Bell is blogging from Cairo. You can follow him at The World blogs, and you can find them at theworld.org.