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Tahrir Square remains primary battle site in duel for Egypt's future

Protesters are again filling Cairo's Tahrir Square in what is expected to be the climax of the recent anti-Mubarak movement. Elizabeth Palmer reports from a nearby hotel overlooking the Tahrir Square.

"Revolution is like a love story," said Alaa Al Aswany, the Egyptian novelist whose writings about the hypocrisy of the Egyptian government and the need for free elections have helped inspire the pro-democracy movement. "When you are in love, you become a much better person. And when you are in revolution, you become a much better person."

But the good mood has often been broken in recent days by spasms of merciless violence.

It starts when a roar goes up, signifying that pro-Mubarak forces are surging toward the square. Hundreds of men press forward to one of the square's entrances to push them back. Rocks fly. Women run for cover. Hand-to-hand combat ensues, with frequent gunshots and explosions piercing an otherwise silent city at night.

Out of the scrum, prisoners emerge.

Those in the square say they have captured dozens of men from the pro-Mubarak side who wear civilian clothes but carry police, ruling party or government identification cards.

Demonstrators have been repeatedly attacked by such men in recent days, with hundreds of people injured and at least nine killed. It would be easy for a mob mentality to take hold.

But the protesters show a measure of empathy for their captives. The identification cards, protesters say, show that their foes come from poor areas of Egypt, and many have confessed to being promised a reward if they try to storm the square - usually about $20 and a meal at Kentucky Fried Chicken.

"They're Egyptian, just like we are," said Khalid Abdul Rahman, a 26-year-old demonstrator. "But someone's telling them that we're not Egyptians."

The detainees are first moved to a travel agency fronting the square that has become a makeshift prison and then passed along to Egyptian soldiers, who impassively watch the scene from atop their tanks.

Rahman said he comes and goes from the square. He said he always returns when he hears that his fellow protesters are under assault, running back with friends and slipping in through the military's checkpoints. But he said he has not yet thrown a single rock.

"When I find that our revolution has become violent, I will leave this square for good," said Rahman, a teacher in jeans and sneakers.

That sentiment is reflected in a popular chant: "We are peaceful."

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