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Egyptian President Declares State Of Emergency


It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Smith.

Friday was the second anniversary of the uprising in Egypt, the topple of the president there, Hosni Mubarak. The anniversary sparked massive protests against the new government, the Islamist government. The violence has left more than 40 people dead.

In a forceful address to the nation earlier today, Egypt's president declared a 30-day state of emergency in three Egyptian cities. NPR's Leila Fadel joins us to discuss the latest. Hey, Leila.


SMITH: Why don't you start by telling us exactly what President Mohammed Morsi means by a state of emergency?

FADEL: Well, basically, he's imposed the emergency law of Hosni Mubarak's era again in these three cities for a limited time - for 30 days. But it means that there's carte blanche. They can arrest anybody they want if they look a little bit fishy, and they can use the full force of the state to try to quell the city.

So for some, you know, human rights groups are saying it's a little concerning that they're employing what they call Mubarak era's tactics to try to calm the protests that have turned so violent.

SMITH: Well, I'm sure he's justifying it by the level of violence that's been seen in Port Said. Tell us about what's happening there.

FADEL: Well, Port Said, in some ways, is a bit of a separate issue than the anti-government protests that we've been seeing since Friday. There was a court ruling that sentenced 21 soccer fans to death over soccer-related riots that happened last year that killed 74 people. While some people were happy, Port Said erupted.

SMITH: Well, you talk about the situation in Port Said. The protesters there, do they have a political agenda also?

FADEL: I think there is a general discontent, a general anger, towards how this transition has gone over the last two years. Not only is there no political stability, but the economy keeps getting worse. And so people feel that since these promises of economic equality and gender equality, civil liberties, happened two years ago, nothing has come to a fruition.

So there is an undercurrent of just general discontent, and then this court ruling, many people feel, is rushed and politicized away to placate some people because many soccer fans known as ultra - Al-Ahly - that are here in Cairo were saying if the full extent of the law is not served, we will set Cairo on fire. And so people feel that this sentencing was actually politicized, that these young men are being scapegoated.

SMITH: I'm sure you've talked to people who two years ago had such high hopes for the future of Egypt, and now they're seeing all this on their television. They hear about the state of emergency. What are they saying?

FADEL: I think people are just disappointed. You know, there was so much promise, there was so much hope two years ago, and none of that really has come to pass. None of the potential of that promise has come to pass, and there's a lot of discontent with this government. But it's also a country that is so polarized right now between those that want to give the Islamist president more of a chance and those who feel that he's just failing to fulfill any promise that he's ever made and also feel that he is serving more of an Islamist agenda than an Egyptian agenda.

So this is a country deeply divided. And although we're seeing thousands of people on the streets, so many people are not on the streets, and so many people don't want these protests to continue. They feel they are just stifling any progress. And every time there is a step forward, there are 10 steps back.

SMITH: You're headed up now to Port Said. You said the situation is still very dangerous there.

FADEL: It is very dangerous. This is an extremely enraged city. And speaking to residents up there by phone, they feel abandoned by the rest of Egypt. They feel that they're being allowed to be scapegoated in this way, and it's really come unleashed. From what I understand, the - on Saturday, many of these supporters and family members of the 21 men tried to storm the prison, pulled out weapons, and it's continuing until today.

And there's a lot of suspicion of anybody outside of Port Said coming into the city because there is such anger. So now that this message has been delivered from the president, we'll see how the city reacts.

SMITH: Leila Fadel is the Cairo bureau chief for NPR. Thanks, Leila.

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

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