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2 weeks later, activist-mom remains defiant

By Miranda Leitsinger, msnbc.com reporter

Amal Sharaf says she has two daughters: her 10-year-old girl and a movement she co-founded in Egypt to remove President Hosni Mubarak from power.

More than two weeks after the popular revolt swept Egypt, the 36-year-old English teacher, whose name means “hope” in English, remains holed up with her daughter and other organizers of her group, the April 6 Youth Movement, in a human rights center in Cairo.

The worst day, so far, was last Thursday, when pro-government mobs launched attacks on protesters, members of the media and human rights groups.

“They attacked the building we are sitting in … and they took some people. They let me go only for the sake of my daughter because she had a nervous breakdown,” the single mother said in a telephone interview.

The other 20 organizers at the center are professionals like Sharaf, including engineers and journalists. They share a common goal: Mubarak’s immediate departure from power and the implementation of economic and political reforms.

NBC News

Amal Sharaf is interviewed at her office in Cairo last week.

Sharaf spends her days going to see the protests in Tahrir Square, writing on the Internet and sending updates to foreign media. She said the square is full of people of all ages, who get food and blankets from those coming to the area to help. Some sing songs asking for Mubarak to step down, and Sharaf said she saw a wedding take place among the throngs of protesters. “They’re staying, and they’re not leaving until Mubarak departs,” she said.

Sharaf helped co-found the April 6 movement in 2008, upset by police brutality as well as her belief that the country needed changes to resolve its political and economic problems.

She said the group called for a protest on this year’s national police holiday on Jan. 25. They were not expecting a large turnout, but the events in Tunisia — where the president was ousted after three weeks of protests — changed that. “People got influenced by what happened in Tunisia … influenced a lot,” she said. “They said they hoped they could make such a thing like Tunisians. So this event helped to gather people.”

More than 300 dead
Hundreds of thousands of people have participated in the demonstrations in Egypt, and the United Nations says 300 people may have died so far. Opposition figures have reported little progress in talks with the government.

Mubarak, 82, has refused calls to end his 30-year rule now, saying he will stay until an election in September — but will not compete in it.

On Tuesday, Egypt’s newly appointed vice president, Omar Suleiman, said the government had a plan and timetable for the peaceful transfer of power and that there would be no reprisals against protesters for their two-week campaign to eject Mubarak from office.
"The youth of Egypt deserve national appreciation," Suleiman quoted Mubarak as saying. "They should not be detained, harassed or denied their freedom of expression.”

Back at the center, Sharaf insists that Mubarak must step down before any negotiations.

Last week, amid the growing protests, NBC's Richard Engel visited Amal Sharaf's office in Cairo. Click this video for his report.

She also noted the great risk being taken by members of the protest movement.

“If it doesn’t go well, we all go to prison, we will be in jail, all of us,” she said, noting that some have already been arrested and injured in the protests.

Sharaf said her family understood why she was involved, and that she would not give up on their cause.

Once you get involved in something like this, you can’t leave,” she said. “Once you see that people need your support you never leave them.”