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Demonstrations Grow Against Egypt's President

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Egypt's president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, runs one of the world's most repressive governments. So it was a big surprise when, apparently, spontaneous protests broke out in three major cities across Egypt this week demanding el-Sissi's resignation. Nearly 2,000 Egyptians have since been arrested. Despite that, social media posts are calling for more protests today. Let's go to Cairo reporter Jared Malsin. He's with The Wall Street Journal, joins us on the line. Jared, what can you tell us about what's happening today?

JARED MALSIN: Well, there's a large deployment of police and other security forces in the street here in central Cairo and other cities. And there's a lot of tension in the air in anticipation of more protests later today.

MARTIN: Can you talk about how - the genesis of these protests? I mean, we're reporting that these kind of came as a surprise. What motivated people to get out? Why are they so angry with el-Sissi in this moment?

MALSIN: Right. This started a few weeks ago with a series of viral videos online published by a man who identified himself as a former contractor for the Egyptian government. And this guy, Mohamed Ali, was talking about corruption in the government and specifically Mr. Sissi's government wasting public funds on these huge construction projects, specifically a series of lavish palaces for the president himself and his family. And this has really struck a nerve with ordinary Egyptians in a moment when living standards have really been declining. Poverty is on the rise. And people are really struggling to make ends meet.

MARTIN: I mean, popular protests have created real political change in Egypt's recent history. I mean, you think about those images of Tahrir Square and the ouster of Hosni Mubarak and then President Morsi, who was ultimately overturned in a coup. But it all started with popular - with a popular uprising. I mean, how stable is el-Sissi's government right now?

MALSIN: Right. That's a great question because Sissi's government is one that - its genesis is in that moment of rebellion and all - this government has carried out an enormous crackdown over the last six years, trying to repress all of that energy from the huge outpouring of protest that took place at that time. And so that's why these protests the last few days have been so surprising - is that anyone going into the street and protesting in Egypt is doing so at a huge amount of personal risk of potentially going to jail for many years or even dying because, again, this is a place that - there's no real freedom of speech and no real right to protest under this government.

MARTIN: The idea that the risk that these protesters are willing to take really underscores the threat that they see to their country's stability if Sissi continues. Do you have any indication that protests will indeed continue today?

MALSIN: It's extremely hard to predict, but there is this call for a million-person march here in Cairo today. And there is a great deal of tension in anticipation of that. And so we really just have to see how all of that plays out in the streets today.

MARTIN: And el-Sissi - has he said anything official?

MALSIN: So Sissi actually landed at the Cairo airport about an hour or two ago, returning from the U.N. in New York. And he was greeted at the airport by a group of supporters and told people not to worry and basically suggested that all this isn't that big of a deal.

MARTIN: All right. We'll keep following it. Wall Street Journal's Jared Malsin in Cairo. Jared, thanks. We appreciate your reporting on this.

MALSIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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