Egypt's new military rulers tried to reassure protesters they were sincere about political reform, announcing they were suspending the constitution, dissolving parliament, and setting a six-month target for full elections.
The Supreme Military Council issued "Communique Number 5" granting itself almost unlimited powers and confirming that Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the defence minister, was effective head of state.
But after the army sent shock waves through the remaining protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square by sending in troops to clear them away early Sunday morning, the Council also reasserted that it had seized power only to give it up.
"The Supreme Council will run the affairs of the country on a temporary basis for six months or until the end of parliamentary and presidential elections," it said.
It announced a new constitution would be drawn up and subjected to a referendum. The current constitution, effectively set aside on Friday when Hosni Mubarak's resignation left the country without a president, made it virtually impossible for independent political parties to challenge the ruling National Democratic Party.
The move by the army to retake Tahrir Square began on Saturday night with plain-clothes officials telling demonstrators it was time to go home. Early yesterday morning, military police in distinctive red caps were pulling down tents, moving demonstrators from the roads encircling the square and directing traffic back down them.
Some protesters claimed scores of people had also been arrested. "They surrounded the protesters," said Emed Mohammed, an accounting supervisor.
"They started ripping down the tents and putting them in trucks by force."
He said he was determined to stay on the square to make sure the military carried out its promise to ensure democracy. "The military committee has got the same government and the same prime minister – all the old corrupt faces," he said.
The leaders of the protests and other opposition figures are divided on how far to trust the military. Abdelmoneim Emam, a spokesman for the Young Leaders group close to Mohamed ElBaradei, the former United Nations nuclear chief who is now an opposition figurehead, said: "We trust the army and call upon people to give them the opportunity to implement what they promised."
He admitted though that the Council had so far not contacted opposition leaders to negotiate the transition process.
The army say they are concerned to restart the Egyptian economy, which has been growing rapidly in recent years despite the international financial crisis but has ground to a standstill during the protests. One estimate put the cost to the economy at more than €21.5bn.
The country's central bank began an auction of €830m in treasury bills on Sunday, hoping to raise funds to mitigate its economic losses, and the country's stock exchange is scheduled to reopen on Wednesday.
Tourism, which makes up 11pc of GDP and accounts for 10pc of jobs, has been particularly hard hit. A group of tour guides said they would be holding a mass photocall in front of the Pyramids holding a banner saying: "Love Egypt" in an attempt to encourage foreign tourists to return.
However, in a further sign of the potential long-term damage to Egypt's reputation, the celebrated head of the country's antiquities council, Zaki Hawass, said that 17 objects had been stolen during the crisis from the Egypt National Museum, despite the heavy security with which it was surrounded.
Among the missing objects were statues of some of ancient Egypt's best-known pharaohs, including the boy king Tutanhkhuman, Akhenaten and Queen Nefertiti.