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In Egypt, deep resentments are at heart of unrest

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Thousands of Egyptian anti-government protesters clashed with police in Cairo on Friday. The police fired rubber bullets into crowds and used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the protesters.

"We're not part of any opposition party. When they have protests, they ask for a change to the constitution or a new minimum wage. We're asking for something different: We want the regime to leave," said Mohammed Hassan, an intense 20-year-old university student who said he was involved in coordinating this week's rallies.

Hassan said he foresees bloodshed, but eventual triumph for the protesters. "It will be like Tunisia,'' he said. "Mubarak will start shooting people. But he will not be able to kill all Egyptians. He will kill 60 or 70, and then he will have to go.''

Already, several protesters and at least one police officer have been killed in the protests, which have involved violent clashes in cities across Egypt.

Toward a new course

Tunisia - where a grass-roots movement succeeded this month in ousting the country's longtime dictator - has been the inspiration here but is not the model.

Protesters interviewed Thursday said they fear the sort of instability that has followed in Tunisia in the weeks since President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fled the country.

The protesters in Egypt have been largely middle class - lawyers, doctors, university students and professors. They have something to lose if this nation of 86 million descends into anarchy, but they also say they may not have much left if Egypt does not shift course.

Ahmed, 25, squared off with baton-wielding police officers this week in large part because he wants to join their ranks, but can't without paying a substantial bribe. He went to law school for four years, only to find that being a lawyer in Egypt means endless payments to clerks just to have his cases heard. He'd rather be a police officer, he said, so he can shake down others.

"But to become a police officer, I have to pay a big bribe, and I don't have the money," said Ahmed, who would not give his last name because he said he does not want to hurt his chances of some day joining the police.

"There's no middle class in this society - we have two classes, the rich and the poor," said Mohammed el-Moafy, 26, also a lawyer. "In the 1990s, you could count the number of millionaires in Egypt. Now it's a long list. And everyone else can't afford everyday living expenses."

Moafy said that while he gets by on the income he earns as a lawyer, he does not have enough money to marry. Still, he is one of the lucky ones. Egypt is rampant with young people who are well educated but have no job and few prospects.

"The demographics were a time bomb ticking away, and unfortunately, the government did not pay any attention to it and it finally went off," said Hisham Kassem, a political analyst here.

Kassem said those demographics, plus the ability of young people to connect with each other via social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, set the conditions for this week's protests.

Seeking dignity

But it's not only young people. Dandarwi, the 53-year-old, said he is determined to keep protesting - if not for his own benefit, then for that of his children.

Dandarwi was raised in a poor farming village, and was the first in his family to go to college. For decades, Egypt provided him with opportunities for advancement.

But he said the stagnant economy and the rigid social structure have left his three children with none of the chances to climb that he had.

On Friday, he expects to be on the streets, and he said that his college-age son will be with him, no matter how severe the consequences. "I worry about him, sure, because I'm a father," Dandarwi said. "But I prefer that a human being die with dignity rather than live with injustice."

Special correspondent Sherine Bayoumi contributed to this report.


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