Middle East

Egypt protests: Momentum building in Tahrir Square

Despite an undercurrent of tension, the mood in Tahrir Square is overwhelmingly jubilant, reports SBS correspondent Brett Mason in Cairo.

Egypt's Islamist President Mohamed Morsi has addressed the nation in a defiant televised speech, saying he would not be standing down.

He has also urged the army to withdraw its ultimatum for him to work out a power-sharing solution with the country's opposition by 5pm local time. (1:00am Thursday AEST)

SBS correspondent Brett Mason is in Cairo and says many of the thousands of anti-government protesters in Tahrir Square stopped to listen to Morsi's speech.

“He told them he would not be standing down as their democratically-elected leader and he would serve a full term”

“That did not go down well with the crowd. It took them 18 days to topple [former president] Hosni Mubarak and there's certainly a sense in Tahrir Square tonight that it could take much less to get rid of Morsi."


The protests, on the first anniversary of Morsi's presidency, show how the mood of the nation has changed.

“Just a year ago this square was full of people celebrating his election as president. There was a real excitement. His approval rating at one point was more than 80 per cent now within a year it's hit rock bottom and these protesters want him gone”, Mason says.

At least seven people have reportedly been killed in clashes between pro-government and opposition protesters and assault against women have apparently risen. A Dutch woman was allegedly attacked by multiple men in Tahrir Square on Friday.

According to SBS' correspondent, this may have turned some away from the square: “It is quite hairy, to be honest with you, entering Tahrir Square. I tend to go in very quickly, do what I need to do, and leave.”

“Most of the people are very excited: they come over, quite a few of them saw the SBS microphone and knew that I was from Australia and they say 'welcome', they're more likely to hurt you with kindness if anything.”

“But the crowd does turn very quickly if there is someone that looks out of place, if there is foreign journalist or reporter that the crowd doesn't know they will quickly surround that person, they demand to know who they are. Where they're from and that can sometimes become tricky for reporters.”

Mason says for now, pro-Morsi supporters are avoiding Tahrir Square, the scene of huge anti-government protests.

“There have been protests across Egypt in support of the president but those protests have certainly been overshadowed by the huge crowds in the last two to three days in Tahrir Square”, he says.

Mason says despite the undercurrent of tension, the atmosphere in Tahrir Square is overwhelmingly jubilant.

“It's 1 o'clock in the morning Egyptian time and the celebration in Tahrir Square makes New Year's Eve in Sydney look like a night in at the nursing home. There is a wild celebration going on and I think that will continue until the crowd gets what they want”.

Watch Brett Mason's full report on World News Australia tonight at 6:30 pm.

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