Egypt Protests Keep Growing, Lure New Citizens

Protesters queue up to go through the military and protester checkpoints before entering Tahrir Square on Feb. 10, 2011. CBS

Protesters queue up to go through the military and protester checkpoints
Protesters queue up to go through the military and protester checkpoints before entering Tahrir Square on Feb. 10, 2011.
CBS News/Erin Lyall George

Seventeen days is a long time to keep protests going - and yet not only do they continue, they are getting bigger and more widespread in Cairo and other cities around Egypt. What was interesting in Tahrir Square today was how many people we met who were coming there for the first time - people like Sarah Halim, a 20 year-old student of education for children with special needs.

Sarah said she was reluctant to come earlier, because she had heard on the (state-controlled) media that the square was full of pickpockets and robbers and that it was a dangerous place. But she said that having walked around the square she realized that what she had heard on the television news was just government propaganda.

"I am very proud of my fellow Egyptians, for these peaceful protests," she said.

Like tens of thousands of others, Sarah has been transformed by simply coming to the square and associating herself with the protests. Mark up one more citizen who has lost her fear of a government that has ruled by keeping the population subdued for 30 years.

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We met Abdul Salam - whose last name means "peace" in Arabic. "My name is peace, and peace is what I want," said Salam, who has temporarily left his job in the duty free shop at the airport to come and be part of the crowd in Tahrir Square. He laughed about the story put out by government propagandists that each protester was being given a free meal of Kentucky Fried Chicken just for turning up - as if it were "feed-a-crowd". "I don't have any KFC, one of us have KFC - that story is ridiculous!" and he laughed, along with the group of people who had gathered around him as he talked to us. One man brandished a small pastry he had in his pocket - "here is Egyptian KFC" he said, and the crowd laughed again.

One thing that is buoying the mood in the square is the news coming in from around the city and the rest of the country of a rash of strikes - bus drivers in Cairo, railroad workers, textile factory employees, even workers at the Suez Canal (although the Canal itself still remains open for shipping). Many of these strikes come from labor grievances that pre-existed the protests, but they have been energized by the larger anti-government movement - coupling their calls for better pay with the demand that President Mubarak leave power and give back the billions of dollars he and his family are said to have amassed.

Nobody knows where these protests are going - every morning when I wake up the situation seems to have changed again - but certainly from talking to protesters today, they think they are gaining the upper hand, at least for the time being.

  • Terry McCarthy

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