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Reed Lindsay reports from Egypt and speaks to Egyptian workers about recent elections
REED LINDSAY, TRNN: In the heart of Shubra, a massive working-class neighborhood in northern Cairo, fear of the state security forces is palpable. It’s not easy to find someone here who would speak fondly of the opposition or criticize the government in front of a camera.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): They’re afraid. They’re afraid. The entire district loves [Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Beltagy]. Nobody disliked him. And on Thursday, he lets people come to his clinic for medical exams. He treats them for free. He gives money to charity. That is what we see from him–a good man, a charitable man.
LINDSAY: But this interview was cut short when a government official appeared.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): He’s with the local council. He’s scaring people away so they won’t do interviews with you. And he says if you keep interviewing these people, he’s going to close down the coffee shop.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): You are the reason this is happening. Are we the ones who have been in power for 30 years? Are we the ones who have been in charge?
LINDSAY: In the safety of their home, this family spoke openly but declined to give their names.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): If you’ve seen how many people support Dr. Beltagy, he should have won the first round, even though he hardly had any campaign or advertising. The campaigning and advertising he did was very simple.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): But because of what he has done for the past 5 years, everybody supports him.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): It’s enough that he made Thursday a day where all the poor people in Shubra can get medical exams in his clinic. And whenever somebody has a problem, they get to meet with Dr. Beltagy to find a way to solve it. He’s not an arrogant person. He doesn’t act like some people do when they reach a position of power. He’s a good man. Does anybody see the NDP candidate? Nobody does.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): Whatever people say, there is one political party that is ensured of winning. It’s a routine. The whole process is just a routine. There is no democracy. Every day I earn $5. Do you think this is enough to live on? It’s not enough. The cost of living is too much. You buy bread for four cents on the street. To get subsidized bread, you have to stand in line for hours, and sometimes you still don’t get it. In the past, people had the strength. Today, people are distracted by money. People are so needy that someone will say they just need $2 to get bread for their kids. Nobody has any mental capacity to be politically active or involved. It’s suffocating. I’m talking to you now, and if they broadcast this two or three days from now, they may come for me and arrest me. I’m just being honest. People are afraid.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): Nobody can talk. And whoever talks will be silenced.
LINDSAY: When people do talk, they often face the consequences. This former presidential candidate was jailed for four years after trying to form an opposition party in 2005. For the poor, defying authority can bring an even worse fate. Just ask Ahmed Kassem. Five months ago, two police informants beat his brother to death in broad daylight a block from his home. Khaled Said’s crime was uploading a cell phone video recording to Facebook that appeared to show police officers dealing drugs. Khaled Said was 28 years old.
AHMED KASSEM, KHALED SAID’S BROTHER: It destroyed my life. Our lives are finished. We can’t think of tomorrow, of the future. We can only think of one thing: how can we get justice? How can he rest in his grave?
LINDSAY: Dr. Mona Hamed is a psychiatrist who works at a clinic that helps victims of police violence. She says Khaled Said’s death was not simply a case of abuse of authority by local officials, but the product of a repressive state that encourages crushing dissent at any cost.
MONA HAMED, EL NADIM CENTER: It’s political. We have a well-known phrase we use here: torture is systematic. It’s not about a single person. It’s not about a certain class of people. It’s not an isolated case, despite what the interior minister says.
LINDSAY: What was unusual about Khaled Said’s case was that it was made public. He quickly became a symbol for the opposition movement, sparking antigovernment protests in Alexandria and Cairo. This one was organized to demand justice for Khaled Said and Ahmed Shabaan, a 20-year-old who was murdered by the police, according to his family. It’s a flash protest. Organized without warning, it lasts just 15 minutes before demonstrators disperse to avoid a police crackdown. In Egypt it’s illegal for more than five people to gather in one place. The Press Syndicate is one of the few locations where demonstrations are tolerated. This one was organized Saturday to denounce the second-round elections.
AIDA SEIF ALDAWLA, EL NADIM CENTER: Egypt has never seen the amount of protests that has been taking place over the last three years. Alright? We had workers and government employees, for example, the real estate tax collectors, you know, protesting and organizing sit-ins for weeks on end in front of Parliament on the street. You know. We expect this to increase, the laying off of workers, the laying off of employees. You know. And to be able to do this, they need oppression, they need police. There is no other way that they can–in fact, if they have decided to steal this people, the Egyptian people, you know, to push them further, further, further down below the poverty line–. They have nothing to bribe the people with, you know, no health services, no education, no bonuses, no new jobs, nothing. This is a country whose policy is directed towards small elites that are enjoying the country’s resources, in short. You know. And when you have nothing to give, there is nothing but the police, there is nothing but brutality, there is nothing but oppression, there is nothing but detention centers and torture and so on. The regime is strong, and we have to be stronger. What you are seeing here, this is the opposition of political parties and political groups. The other protests which I’m talking about do not take place here at the press syndicate. They take place in front of Parliament, alright, in front of the cabinet, in factories. There you will find people in the thousands. I think one advantage, which I hope would reflect on the way people struggle to change this regime, is to realize that Parliament in a police state is not the way to change.
LINDSAY: Another protest was organized on Sunday in Tahrir Square, a heavily transited plaza in downtown Cairo, considered off-limits to demonstrations and to the journalists reporting on them.
UNIDENTIFIED: Better if you go. It’s better if you go. It’s better if you go.
OFF-CAMERA: We have a permit to film.
UNIDENTIFIED: We don’t care. He’s not going to care about it. It’s better if you go.
LINDSAY: The protesters were pushed down a side street and surrounded by riot police, out of view of journalists and tourists. Reporting from Cairo, Egypt, this is Reed Lindsay for The Real News.
End of Transcript
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