Egypt: former Mubarak man appointed prime minister
A former prime minister of Hosni Mubarak’s has accepted a request from Egypt’s ruling generals to form a new government, reports claim.
Egyptian state media reported that 78-year-old Kamal al-Ganzouri, who served under Mr Mubarak from 1996 to 1999, had agreed in principle to lead a “national salvation” government after meeting with the head of the ruling army council, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi.
While the appointment is highly unlikely to find favour in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, other Egyptians are likely to approve the choice of a man seen as a moderate. Nonetheless it will be seen as an act of desperation by the military.
The generals are understood to have held negotiations with candidates seeking to contest next year’s presidential elections, including Mohamed ElBaradei, the former UN chief nuclear weapons inspector.
Some moderate candidates are understood to have rejected the advances of the military fearing that any hints collaborating with the increasingly unpopular military leadership would damage their electoral chances.
Protesters are demanding that the military hands over full sovereignty to an interim civilian ruling council that would complete the transition to full democracy. The appointment of an official who served under Hosni Mubarak, the former president, will heighten the fears of protesters that the new civilian cabinet will have as little clout as the one it replaces. The previous cabinet tendered their resignation earlier this week.
The appointment came as an uneasy truce held in the environs of Cairo’s Tahrir Square after Egypt’s ruling generals apologised for the deaths of nearly 40 people since protests demanding their overthrow erupted six days ago.
The unusual display of contrition, which stood in stark contrast to the army’s previously threatening rhetoric, brought a lull to days of violent confrontation in the streets and alleys separating the square and the nearby interior ministry, a hated symbol of regime repression.
But it failed to end the protests themselves. By nightfall, the crowd in the square had swelled to tens of thousands and pro-reform activists said they planned to stage a major show of force in central Cairo after prayers on Friday.
Anxious to lower tensions in the build up to parliamentary elections on Monday, the first to be held since February’s overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, the generals allowed elders to broker a five-day halt in the fighting.
In exchange, they agreed to release detained protesters and express their sorrow for the role the security forces in the recent bloodshed.
“The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces presents its regrets and deep apologies for the deaths of martyrs from among Egypt’s loyal sons during the recent events in Tahrir Square,” the generals said in a statement.
The widely-reviled police force outside the interior ministry was replaced by soldiers, who erected coils of barbed wire and concrete barricades to fortify their positions. Protesters, the vast majority of whom have remained peaceful since the beginning of what they call Egypt’s “Second Revolution”, formed human chains to prevent the more radical of their number from throwing stones.
But it is unclear how long the ceasefire can hold. Many of the youths who have led the violent confrontation will welcome a brief respite to recover from exhaustion and the depletion of their ranks after sustaining more than 1,000 injuries.
But many insist that they will have to return to the barricades to force the military leadership into surrendering full power immediately, rather than in June next year as it has proposed.
Protesters in Tahrir Square were also angered by the army’s refusal to countenance a brief postponement of Monday’s election. Blaming the military for the deaths of their comrades, they say it can no longer be trusted to provide the necessary security to allow voting to go ahead peacefully.
But they received short shrift from the generals, who also ruled out expediting the transition to civilian rule any further.
“We will not relinquish power because of a slogan-chanting crowd,” said Maj Gen Mukhtar el-Mallah, a member of the ruling military council, claiming that such a move would represent “a betrayal of the trust placed in our hands by the people.”
By refusing further major concessions, the generals are hoping to show that the protesters in Tahrir Square do not represent the majority of Egyptians.
There is undoubtedly a growing dissonance between the demonstrators and major political parties. The Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies, likely to become the dominant force in parliament, have broadly accepted the army’s latest timetable, presented this week, which will see it hand power to a civilian president elected in June, rather than in 2013.
Outside Tahrir Square, there is far less clarity about the righteousness of the protesters’ cause than there was when the revolt against Mr Mubarak began on January 25th. Many blame the army for stultifying the pace of reform and accuse it of perpetrating the same kind of intolerance and human rights abuses practiced by the man they replaced. But they also fear that a hasty transition could bring chaos to a country with an undoubted propensity for volatility, whose economy is in deep crisis and whose ability to institute democracy remains untested, not least because the intentions of the Muslim Brotherhood remain unknown.
“I’m confused,” said a shopkeeper on Talat Harb Street, just off Tahrir Square. “I don’t know who is right and who is wrong. On January 25th, I knew where I stood, but now I’m not so sure.
“What I do know is that I come here every day and open my shop, but I’m not really selling anything.”
Others in the street were plainly hostile. “Those people who are standing there are 12 years-old,” one woman spat, gesticulating towards the square. “They don’t even have shoes.”
Such characterisations are unfair. As she spoke, a group of middle-class lawyers demanding the resignation of the generals, marched past.
But there is a much greater proportion of the apparently dispossessed in the square than there was in January and February, testifying to the fact that the disgruntlement of Egypt’s vast underclass is rooted as much in social issues as in a craving for democracy.
“I am here for bread, freedom and social justice,” a veiled woman who introduced herself as Shadia “Daughter of the Nile” said. “We have to change the system.”