Tag Archives: Cairo

Egypt has a new president…Mohammed Morsi

Islamist Morsi elected Egypt’s president

By MAGGIE MICHAEL and SARAH EL DEEB | Associated Press

CAIRO (AP) — Islamist Mohammed Morsi was declared the winner Sunday in Egypt’s first free presidential election in history, closing the tumultuous first phase of a democratic transition and opening a new struggle with the still-dominant military rulers who recently stripped the presidency of most of its powers.

In Tahrir Square, the birthplace of the uprising that ousted autocratic President Hosni Mubarak, joyous supporters of Morsi’sMuslim Brotherhood wept and kneeled on the ground in prayer when they heard the announcement on live television. They danced, set off fireworks and released doves in the air with Morsi’s picture attached in celebrations not seen in the square since Mubarak was forced out on Feb. 11, 2011.

Many are looking now to see whether Morsi will try to take on the military and wrestle back the powers they took from his office just one week ago. Thousands vowed to remain in Tahrir to demand that the ruling generals reverse their decision.

In his first televised speech, the 60-year old U.S.-trained engineer called on Egyptians to unite and tried to reassure minority Christians, who mostly backed Morsi’s rivalAhmed Shafiq because they feared Islamic rule.

He said he carries “a message of peace” to the world and pledged to preserve Egypt’s international accords, a reference to the peace deal with Israel.

He also paid tribute to nearly 900 protesters killed in last year’s uprising.

“I wouldn’t have been here between your hands as the first elected president without … the blood, the tears, and sacrifices of the martyrs,” he said.

In the lengthy and redundant speech, Morsi appeared to be struggling to compose his sentences. Wearing a blue suit and tie, he looked stiff and uncomfortable and did not smile throughout as he read from a paper. He was non-confrontational and did not mention the last-minute power grab by the ruling military, instead praising the armed forces.

The White House congratulated Morsi and urged him to advance national unity as he forms a new government. White House press secretary Jay Carney said Morsi’s victory is a milestone in Egypt’s transition to democracy after decades of authoritarian rule under Mubarak. The Obama administration had expressed no public preference in the presidential race.

Left on the sidelines of the political drama are the liberal and secular youth groups that drove the uprising against Mubarak, left to wonder whether Egypt has taken a step towards becoming an Islamist state. Some grudgingly supported Morsi in the face of Shafiq, who was Mubarak’s last prime minister, while others boycotted the vote.

Morsi will now have to reassure them that he represents the whole country, not just Islamists, and will face enormous challenges after security and the economy badly deteriorated in the transition period.

Pro-democracy leader Mohammed ElBaradei urged unity after the results were announced.

“It is time we work all as Egyptians as part of a national consensus to build Egypt that is based on freedom and social justice,” he wrote on his Twitter account.

The elections left the nation deeply polarized with one side backing Shafiq, who promised to provide stability and prevent Egypt from becoming a theocracy. Because of his military career, many saw him as the military’s preferred candidate.

In the other camp are those eager for democratic change and backers of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood who were persecuted, jailed and banned under Mubarak but now find themselves one of the two most powerful groups in Egypt.

The other power center is the ruling military council that took power after the uprising and is headed by Mubarak’s defense minister of 20 years.

Just one week ago, at the moment polls were closing in the presidential runoff, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) issued constitutional amendments that stripped the president’s office of most of its major powers. The ruling generals made themselves the final arbiters over the most pressing issues still complicating the transition— such as writing the constitution, legislating, passing the state budget— and granted military police broad powers to detain civilians.

“I am happy the Brotherhood won because now the revolution will continue on the street against both of them, the Brotherhood and the SCAF,” said Lobna Darwish, an activist who has boycotted the elections.

Also, a few days before that constitutional declaration, a court dissolved the freely elected parliament, which is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, leaving the military now in charge of legislating.

Brotherhood members and experts said the results were used a bargaining chip between the generals and the Brotherhood over the parameters of what appears to be a new power-sharing agreement. The country’s new constitution is not written and the authorities of the president are not clear.

This is the first time modern Egypt will be headed by an Islamist and by a freely elected civilian. The country’s last four presidents over the past six decades have all came from the ranks of the military.

“Congratulations because this means the end of the Mubarak state,” said Shady el-Ghazali Harb, a prominent activist who was among the leaders of the protests in January and February last year.

The results of the elections were delayed for four days amid accusations of manipulation and foul play by both sides, raising political tensions in Egypt to a fever pitch.

The delay plunged the country into nerve-wrecking anticipation and pushed tensions to a fever pitch. Parallel mass rallies by Shafiq and Morsi supporters were held in different parts of Cairo and cut-throat media attacks by supporters of both swarmed TV shows. In the hours before the announcement of the winner, the fear of new violence was palpable.

Heavy security was deployed around the country, especially outside state institutions, in anticipation of possible violence. Workers were sent home early from jobs, jewelry stores closed for fear of looting and many were stocking up on food and forming long lines at cash machines in case new troubles began.

Morsi narrowly defeated Shafiq with 51.7 percent of the vote versus 48.3, by a margin of only 800,000 votes, the election commission said. Turnout was 51 percent.

Farouk Sultan, the head of the commission, described the elections as “an important phase in the end of building our nascent democratic experience.”

Sultan went to pains to explain the more than 400 complaints presented by the two candidates challenging counting procedures and alleging attempts of rigging. It appeared to be an attempt to discredit claims that the election commission was biased in favor of Shafiq, the candidate perceived as backed by the military rulers.

The country is deeply divided between supporters of the Brotherhood, liberals and leftists who also decided to back them as a way to stand up to the military, and other secular forces that fear the domination of the Brotherhood, and grew critical of it in the past year. The small margin of victory for Morsi also sets him for a strong opposition from supporters of Shafiq, viewed as a representative of the old regime.

Naguib Sawiris, a Coptic Christian business tycoon who joined a liberal bloc in voicing opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood a day before the results were announced, said he expects the new president to send a reassuring message to Egypt’s Christian minority who represent around 10 percent of the population of 85 million.

“There are fears of imposing an Islamic state … where Christians don’t have same rights,” Sawiris told the private TV station CBC. Morsi “is required to prove the opposite. … We don’t want speeches or promises but in the coming period, it is about taking action. … He was not our choice but we are accepting it is a democratic choice.”

Hamdeen Sabahi, a leftist presidential candidate who came in a surprising third place in the first round of elections, asked Morsi to live up to his pledges to form a national coalition government and appoint presidential aides from different groups “that express the largest national consensus.”

Khaled Abdel-Hamid, a leading leftist politician, said Morsi must fight to get his powers back or he will lose any popular support he may have garnered.

“If he fights to get his power back, we will support him. But if he doesn’t fight back, then he is settling for siding with the military,” he said.


Egypt’s Generals, Protesters Moving to Open Clash


CAIRO – Egypt‘s ruling military and protesters seeking greater and faster change are moving into an outright collision, as the generals try to strip away public support for the movement while cozying up to the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood.

Youth activists are not backing down, betting that Egyptians‘ dissatisfaction with the military’s running of the country will grow.

The generals, in power since the February ouster of longtime leaderHosni Mubarak, have launched an intensified media campaign against the protest activists, depicting them as a troublemaking minority and agents paid by foreign governments to grab power in an apparent attempt to turn the public against them. The message could have some appeal among Egyptians growing tired of continued unrest and fragile security.

At the same time, the military is cultivating ties with the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, which joined liberal and leftist youth in the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak but has since split with them on multiple issues. By cultivating the Brotherhood, the generals can take advantage of their large popular support base to counter the young protesters’ influence.

Maj. Gen. Mohammed al-Assar, a member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the body of generals that have taken over from Mubarak, praised the Brotherhood on Monday, saying they were playing a constructive role in post-Mubarak Egypt.

“Day by day, the Brotherhood are changing and are getting on a more moderate track,” he said in a speech in Washington at the United States Institute of Peace. “They have the willingness to share in the political life … they are sharing in good ways.”

The generals have also encouraged street protests by pro-military groups. Dozens of army supporters have held daily rallies the past two weeks in a square in northeastern Cairo, getting heavy TV coverage, aimed at counterbalancing a tent camp by the youth activists at Tahrir Square, the center of the anti-Mubarak uprising.

If the tension between the two camps boils over, it could plunge Egypt deeper into chaos, even sparking clashes. That could derail the country’s transition to democratic rule, a failure that could have wider implications on a region that is looking to Egypt to provide a role model for pro-democracy uprisings elsewhere in the Arab world.

A sign of the dangers came Saturday, when thousands of protesters made a peaceful march on the Defense Ministry in Cairo to push demands that police officers responsible for the killing of some 850 protesters during anti-Mubarak uprising be brought to justice and that military trials of civilian protesters be stopped. They were attacked by bands of men armed with sticks, knives and firebombs.

Hundreds of military police backed by anti-riot policemen stood by without intervening as the two sides fought for several hours. At least 300 people were wounded in the clashes.

The protest movement began to hike up pressure on the military earlier this month, launching their sit-in protest in Tahrir. One of their top demands is that the killers of protesters be brought to justice, but they also complain that the generals have mismanaged the transition to democratic rule, operating without transparency and dragging their feet in weeding out Mubarak loyalists from the judiciary, the civil service and the police force. Their ultimate fear is that the military will allow much of Mubarak’s authoritarian regime to stay in place.

The generals have countered by doing some revision of history, aiming to restore their longtime status as the ultimate authority in Egypt. For example, they have sought to depict themselves as equal partners with the Tahrir protesters in the popular uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak’s 29-year regime.

Over the weekend, the military took its rhetoric against the protesters into a dramatically higher gear. A military statement over the weekend accused a key youth group, April 6, of driving a wedge between the armed forces and Egyptians and of receiving foreign funding and training.

It also criticized “Kifaya,” or “Enough!”, a movement that emerged in 2004 and was the first in Egypt to publicly call for Mubarak’s removal and to oppose plans for his son Gamal to succeed him. One general said Kifaya was an “imported” movement, suggesting that it was created, financed and controlled by foreign powers.

Columnist Wael Kandil criticized the military’s comments Monday in the independent daily Al-Shorouq, warning that “we are now in the phase of burning the revolution.”

“The only thing left is to bring a tailor to take Mubarak’s measurements to make him a new set of suits for his triumphant return,” he wrote.

Activists from April 6 and Kifaya denied the military charges, accusing the generals of using Mubarak-era tactics.

The military has also been making a major media push. Numerous retired army generals have appeared on TV political talk shows as commentators in recent days, promoting the military council’s line.

This week, the host of one popular show, Dina Abdel-Rahman, was fired after repeated criticism of the military, including a sharp debate with one of the retired generals who called in to her show defending the military council.

Gamal Eid, a human rights lawyer, said her firing was a warning to others.

“Fear of the military is still great,” he said.

“I expect a clash between the two sides,” said analyst Hala Mustafa. “There exists a huge gap in their vision and tempo. Unlike the revolutionaries, the generals want to reform the system from within while they want to bring it down and build a new one in its place.”

A senior Brotherhood figure, Essam el-Erian, said the youth activists protesting against the military were trying to dominate Egypt’s politics but have failed to convince the majority of Egyptians.

He denied any growing ties between the Brotherhood and the military, saying they agree only on one issue — that elections should be held to transfer power to the people. The military has called for parliamentary and presidential elections to be held later this year, and the Brotherhood is expected to do well in the voting.

El-Erian warned that the alternative is a military coup.

“The military would tell us, ‘You go back home’, and they will manage the country. That would be a coup,” he told The Associated Press.

In the other camp, Mustafa Shawki, a key youth activist, acknowledged that smaller numbers have been showing up for Tahrir Square rallies. But he said the military’s continued mismanaging of the transition will fuel public discontent.

“We are at the end of the second wave of the revolution,” he said. “What will bring about the third wave of the revolution is the failure of the military council to bring about social justice. That will win back support for the revolutionaries that has currently been lost.”


Unrest in Egypt

Clashes in Cairo Leave 12 Dead and 2 Churches in Flames


CAIRO — A night of street fighting between hundreds of Muslims and Christians left at least 12 people dead and two churches in flames on Sunday in the latest outbreak of sectarian tensions in the three months since the revolution that ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

By lifting the heavy hand of the Mubarak police state, the revolution unleashed long-suppressed sectarian animosities that have burst out with increasing ferocity, threatening the recovery of Egypt’s tourist economy and the stability of its hoped-for transition to democracy.

Officials of the Interior Ministry said at least six Christians and at least six Muslims had died, and about 220 people were wounded, including at least 65 who were struck by bullets.

The Egyptian authorities vowed a swift response. The military council governing the country announced military trials for 190 people arrested in the violence. Civilian authorities promised increased security at houses of worship and a new ban on demonstrations outside such institutions. The interim prime ministerEssam Sharaf, canceled a trip abroad to preside over an emergency cabinet meeting, and Egypt’s most respected Muslim religious authority, the sheik of Al Azhar, denounced the violence.

“Egypt has already become a nation in danger,” Justice Minister Abdel Aziz al-Gindi said after the cabinet meeting, vowing to strike “with an iron hand” to preserve national security.

But by nightfall thousands of unsatisfied Christians — members of the indigenous Coptic Orthodox minority that makes up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population — gathered in protest outside the state television building, closing a main thoroughfare. Adapting the chants and tactics of the Tahrir Square sit-in and exercising their new freedom of assembly, the Copts accused the military government of indifference; called for the resignation of the military leader, Field MarshalMohamed Hussein Tantawi; and vowed not to leave.

To prevent renewed violence, an overwhelming force of hundreds of heavily armed soldiers and riot police officers occupied the Cairo neighborhood where the clashes took place, a tangle of filth-covered alleys known as Imbaba, where they blocked access to the area around the Church of St. Mina, the church at the center of the battle. Garbage fires set nearby during the clashes still smoldered Sunday morning, and burned-out car frames sat in the streets.

A police report and many Christians in the neighborhood sought to place the blame for the violence on Salafis — adherents to an ascetic and often apolitical variant of Muslim traditionalism that is becoming a catch-all term for Islamic militancy here as mainstream Islamists focus increasingly on the ballot box.

But many Christian as well as Muslim witnesses said there did not appear to be any organized group or guiding ideology behind the violence or church burnings. Instead, people on both sides said that the fighting pitted one group of frustrated and underemployed young men from the neighborhood against another, along battle lines that had more to do with tribal allegiances than any religious or political ideas.

Like many recent episodes of Muslim-Christian violence here, the strife started with rumors about an interfaith romance and a woman’s abduction. According to a police report, a Muslim named Yassim Thaabet Anwar from a city up the Nile had come to Imbaba looking for his wife. He said she was a former Christian from the neighborhood who had converted to Islam in 2010 but had recently disappeared. And he asserted she had been kidnapped and held in the Church of St. Mina against her will — a pattern of allegations that has recurred in several recent high-profile episodes of sectarian conflict.

Christians in the neighborhood said that there was no such woman in the church, and, by Sunday night, the local police and government officials agreed.

But early Saturday evening, Christian men in the neighborhood began receiving phone calls from friends warning that a group of Salafis was approaching the church. More than 500 raced to defend it, armed with sticks, knives and other makeshift weapons, according to Christian residents and the police report.

By about 6 p.m., according to Christians and the report, they far outnumbered the Muslims. About 20 had arrived to ask about the woman who was said to be missing. But soon similar calls for backup went out to Muslim men around the neighborhood, and within about an hour at least 500 Muslims had gathered as well. The police report described a crowd of a total of 1,500 Christians and Muslims, which later grew to 2,000.

“You get a phone call that says, ‘Come quick. A big sheik’s wife has been taken into the church, and he is calling on people help to get his wife out,’ ” said Hussein Qheder, an Imbaba resident who was recently released after 14 years in prison for his work with an Islamist political group. (He also recently demonstrated at the American Embassy here in Cairo for the release of Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind sheik who is serving a life sentence in the United States after being convicted in a conspiracy to bomb the World Trade Center in 1993.)

But though he said he “would be considered an extremist,” he declined to answer the request because the caller could not provide more details. “In this period we are in, we cannot bear this kind of talk,” he said. “This could kill the revolution.”

By 8 p.m. on Saturday, shots had been fired from a rooftop or balcony. The police report said that Christians had fired in the air, and Alaa Ayed, 25, a Christian in the crowd, acknowledged that his side might have been the first to open fire.

“How can they say we started it when we are defending our church?” he asked. “I am going to defend my church and my house, and if that injures someone, I can’t help it.”

The mobs began battling with clubs, knives, bricks and Molotov cocktails, and there were occasional gunshots from windows and roofs. Security forces arrived and fired tear gas at the crowd, but the battle continued, exacerbated by a blackout. Muslims set fire to the Church of St. Mina, and, after midnight, to the nearby Church of the Virgin Mary. Administrators at the neighborhood hospital said the battle continued until at least 4 a.m. on Sunday.

In March, clashes between Muslims and Christians in the town of Helwan killed 13 and left a church there in flames. In that instance, the spark was a rumored romance between a Muslim woman and a Christian man.

The strife broke out Saturday just hours after another sectarian saga had appeared to close. Muslims and Christians in Egypt have argued since last summer about Camilia Shehata, the wife of a Coptic Christian priest who disappeared for a time. Many Muslims believe she tried to convert to Islam, only to be kidnapped by her husband and members of the Coptic Church.

In retaliation for her purported abduction, Islamist militants carried out a church bombing as far away as Iraq and threatened churches in Egypt. Among the churches threatened was one in Alexandria wherean explosion on Jan. 1 killed more than 20 Copts. As recently as Friday, hundreds of Muslims and Copts held rival demonstrations about her case in Cairo.

Many Muslims have insisted that to lay the allegations to rest, Ms. Shehata should appear on television to declare her faith and marriage, and on Saturday she appeared with her husband on a satellite television network owned by a prominent Christian businessman here. Egyptians should move on, she said, just hours before the violence broke out in Imbaba.


Hosni Mubarak’s last remnant

Egyptian PM Ahmed Shafiq quits

By Mona Salem | AFP News

Egypt‘s military rulers have accepted the surprise resignation of Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, seen by protesters as a symbol of ousted president Hosni Mubarak‘s regime, the army said on Thursday.

He will be replaced by Essam Sharaf, a former transport minister who took part in the mass rallies in Cairo‘s Tahrir Square which led to strongman Mubarak’s resignation on February 11 after three decades in power.

Shafiq was appointed by Mubarak in the dying days of his rule, in a failed bid to quell the protests. The military council has been running Egypt since Mubarak stood down.

“The Supreme Council of Military Forces announces that it has accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq,” the statement said, without elaborating on the reasons for the move.

Since the fall of Mubarak, protesters have continued to call for a replacement of the current government, which includes several ministers from the toppled regime.

The council has previously ordered the government to run the country’s affairs for six months “or until the end of parliamentary and presidential elections” and is also examining constitutional reforms.

Shafiq had been expected to stay in office at least until the elections.

His successor, Sharaf, was transport minister from 2002 to 2005. He was sacked over differences with then-premier Ahmad Nazif. Nazif was himself sacked four days after the start of the anti-Mubarak protests.

Sharaf is popular with the youths who launched the revolt against Mubarak, having taken part in the huge demonstrations in Tahrir Square in central Cairo.

Key opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei, who headed the Vienna-based UN International Atomic Energy Agency from 1997 to 2009 and returned to Egypt join the protests, welcomed Shafiq’s resignation.

On Twitter, he said: “We are on the right track, I express my sincere appreciation to the Supreme Council of Armed Forces who have accepted the demand of the people.”

The nationwide protests that erupted on January 25 left at least 384 dead, more than 6,000 injured and scores detained.

Mubarak is currently receiving medical treatment for cancer in Saudi Arabia, a state-owned newspaper reported on Wednesday, despite the fact that the government imposed a travel ban on him and his family at the weekend.

The paper reported that Mubarak left for the Saudi city of Tabuk days after he resigned.

Egypt’s military council met a group including ElBaradei and Arab League chief Amr Mussa on Tuesday to discuss upcoming reforms, the state news agency MENA said.

The talks focused on constitutional reform, especially on the conditions for presidential candidates and the reduction of the number of terms to two of four years instead of an unlimited number of six-year terms, it said.

Mussa said last month he would be a candidate for Egyptian president.


The fear of Hunger….

Egyptians face food hardship after protests

By Sherine El Madany

CAIRO (Reuters) – Electrician Hassan Ibrahim, a father of three, hopes Egypt‘s revolution will speed the day he no longer lives in fear that his family will go hungry.

On January 28, he joined millions of protesters on streets acrossEgypt, home to one of the world’s fastest food inflation rates, in an uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak.

For now, Ibrahim finds life even harder than before.

Days of rejoicing followed Mubarak’s resignation last week but now Egyptians replenishing their food supplies are finding empty shelves or hugely inflated prices.

Prices of food and drink already soared 18 percent year-on-year last month while Ibrahim’s salary stagnated.

As protestors chanted for Mubarak’s removal, other Egyptians could be seen piling up shopping carts with emergency provisions and heaving bags full of the country’s staple brown beans home from markets before a nighttime curfew.

“Prices rose even higher through the days of protests as everyone has been stocking up during the curfew,” said Ibrahim.

This is an extra headache for authorities eager to restore confidence in an economy hit by strikes and bank closures.

The pressure to guarantee food supplies is great given Egypt’s history of sporadic bread riots which led the army to intervene on occasions to ensure calm or distribute supplies.

Egypt relies on imports for at least half of domestic consumption and the revolution came as global food prices, as tracked by a U.N. agency, hit their highest on record in January.

Shoppers said the latest price surge came amid panic buying of essential goods on fears of future shortages. Merchants also blame a rise in the cost of transport.

“Prices have gone up for both merchants and buyers,” said Omm Mahmoud, who sells fruit and vegetables in a Cairo suburb. “It now costs me more to have my goods transported from the farms to the city, and I have to pass on those costs.”

If prices aren’t a problem, then supplies are.

“In state-run shops grocery prices are reasonable but supply is not enough,” said 53-year old housewife Magda Hussein. “They run out of items quickly, so I have to purchase the rest of my groceries from stores that charge about double the price.”

Like other protesters, Ibrahim blames higher living costs on Mubarak, who ruled a country where a fifth of the population lives on less than $2 a day, according to the United Nations.

Ibrahim brought his children to Tahrir (Liberation) Square, the heart of the revolution in Cairo, several times to learn about the value of democracy.

“I know that living costs and unemployment could rise, but that is a price I am willing to pay for the success of the revolution. I want my children to live in a free country,” he said.


John Sfakianakis, chief economist at Banque Saudi Fransi, said Mubarak fell due to rising inequality, high unemployment and very high inflation. “Food inflation will continue to be the biggest concern,” he said. “People … will not maybe buy a car but they will still have to eat.”

Global prices are set to stay high after a massive snowstorm in the United States and floods in Australia.

Beltone investment bank indicated the suffering in Egypt was likely to continue. “This spike in prices is set to continue into February and perhaps subsequent months, although this will largely depend on the unfolding political situation,” it said in a research note.

Sfakianakis expects Egypt’s food inflation to continue rising in 2011 to reach about 20 percent year-on-year, and said it would be difficult for Egypt to curb prices because globally they are likely to remain high this year.

The situation won’t be helped by a drop in the Egyptian pound that makes imported goods even dearer and adds further strain to the government’s import subsidy bill.

“We … believe that global food prices will add to upward inflationary pressures, although the government will continue to increase subsidies when required on basic goods to keep prices stable,” said investment bank EFG-Hermes.


Economic Meltdown

Egypt ‘faces wave of strikes

By – AFP News

The Egyptian political protests that toppled the regime of strongman Hosni Mubarak have given way to a nationwide “explosion” of pay strikes, a pressure group tracking industrial action told AFP on Monday.

Workers in banking, transport, oil, tourism, textiles, state-owned media and government bodies are striking to demand higher wages and better conditions, said Kamal Abbas of the Centre for Trade Union and Workers’ Services.

“It’s difficult to say exactly how many people are striking and where. Who isn’t striking?” Abbas said.

Many trade unions are headed by people affiliated to Mubarak’s regime, leaving workers with little formal channels to air their grievances.

“In many places, workers want the removal of senior figures who are accused of corruption,” Abbas said.

The salary gaps between directors and management is a major issue, while many workers are demanding benefits and legal protection, having worked on temporary contracts for years, he said.

Nationwide protests erupted on January 25, ending Mubarak’s 30-year rule in less than three weeks. At least 300 people were killed in the demonstrations and scores more were injured or detained.


A step in the right direction

Egypt’s military eyes constitutional referendum


By Marwa Awad and Tom Perry

CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt’s new military rulers have given indications of new moves to share power with civilians and rapidly to amend the constitution by popular referendum, opposition activists and a British minister said on Monday.

Wael Ghonim, a Google executive detained then released for his part in the uprising that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak, said members of the military council had told him a referendum would be held on constitutional amendments in two months.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik had told him that he would reshuffle his cabinet in the coming week to bring opposition figures into the line-up appointed by Mubarak last month.

Earlier, Egypt’s new military rulers urged workers to return to their jobs on Monday and help restart an economy damaged by the uprising which ended Mubarak’s 30-year rule but also sparked a growing wave of strikes.

In a televised address three days after Mubarak was forced to step down as president and hand power to the armed forces, the Higher Military Council appealed for national unity.

In “Communique No. 5” read out on state television, an army spokesman said: “Noble Egyptians see that these strikes, at this delicate time, lead to negative results.” It added that work stoppages were harming security and economic production.

The military council now governing the Arab world’s most populous nation said it “calls on citizens and professional unions and the labour unions to play their role fully”.

Egypt’s generals, who played an important role in the anti-Mubarak revolt by making no effort to crush it, are asserting their control and trying to return life to normal. They have pledged to supervise a transition to civilian rule.

Political analysts questioned how long it would take to amend the constitution, hold a referendum on the amendments and then hold the elections to the legislature and executive.

The comments by Ghonim and Hague indicated a willingness to move swiftly, though sceptics will want to see real action.

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Pro-democracy leaders say Egyptians will demonstrate again if their demands for radical change are not met. They plan a big “Victory March” on Friday to celebrate the revolution — and perhaps to remind the military of the power of the street.

Using their new-found freedom of expression and protest, angry employees on Monday rallied in Cairo and other cities to complain about low pay and poor working conditions.

Protests, sit-ins and strikes have occurred at state-owned institutions across Egypt, including the stock exchange, textile and steel firms, media organisations, the postal service, railways, the Culture Ministry and the Health Ministry.

Workers cite a series of grievances. What unites them is a new sense of being able to speak out in the post-Mubarak era.


Hundreds of employees demonstrated outside a branch of the Bank of Alexandria in central Cairo on Monday, urging their bosses to “leave, leave!” in an echo of an anti-Mubarak slogan.

At least 500 people staged a wage protest outside the state television building.

The military cleared the last few dozen protesters from Cairo’s Tahrir Square, nerve-centre of anti-Mubarak protests.

But shortly after that, hundreds of police officers marched through to demonstrate solidarity with pro-democracy activists and again stopped traffic flowing through the city centre.

In a sign of nervousness, Egypt’s stock exchange, closed since Jan. 27 because of the turmoil, said it would remain shut until stability returned to the economy, an official said.

The military rulers called a bank holiday on Monday after disruption in the banking sector. Tuesday will be a national holiday to mark the Prophet Mohammad’s birthday.

In a communique on Sunday, the military suspended the constitution and dissolved parliament, moves welcomed by those who saw both as tailored to reinforcing Mubarak’s iron rule.

Egyptians generally respect the 470,000-strong military, which receives about $1.3 billion annually in U.S. aid and was shielded from public criticism or scrutiny in the Mubarak era. But some in the opposition still mistrust its intentions.

The top U.S. military officer voiced admiration on Monday for the way Egypt’s army had peacefully handled the power shift.

“I think they have handled this situation exceptionally well … it’s been done peacefully, and we have every expectation that that will continue,” Admiral Mike Mullen told Reuters during a visit to Israel.


Free and fair elections will be held under a revised constitution, the military said. But it gave no timetable beyond saying it would be in charge “for a temporary period of six months or until the end of elections to the upper and lower houses of parliament, and presidential elections”.

“The Egyptian regime is still there, still controlled by old generals,” said the political risk consultancy Stratfor, adding:

“They have promised democracy, but it is not clear that they mean it. If they mean it, it is not clear how they would do it, certainly not in a timeframe of a few months.”

As the “Revolution on the Nile” sent shockwaves around the Middle East, troubling global financial markets worried about oil supplies, there were clashes in both Bahrain and Yemen, neighbours of the world’s biggest oil exporter Saudi Arabia.

In Tehran, too, police fired teargas at demonstrators.

Algeria said on Monday a 19-year-old state of emergency there would be lifted in days, brushing off concerns that recent protests could escalate as in Tunisia and Egypt.

Egypt’s army said it would lift the country’s own hated state of emergency, implemented after the 1981 assassination of Mubarak’s predecessor Anwar Sadat by Islamist soldiers and kept in place by Mubarak to stifle dissent. It has yet to say when this will happen, troubling pro-democracy campaigners.

The cabinet, appointed by Mubarak last month to try to persuade protesters he was introducing a fresh team to introduce reforms, stays in place. It now reports to the army chiefs.


“The week began with an old soldier running Egypt. It ended with different old soldiers running Egypt with even more formal power than Mubarak had,” Stratfor said.

Any transition to democracy will be fraught with difficulty, and old ways of doing things may die hard in a country where the ruling party routinely rigged elections and candidates used bribery, hired thugs and dirty tricks to ensure victory.

Existing registered parties are mostly small, weak and fragmented. The Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, which under the now suspended constitution could not form a party, may be the best organised group but its true popularity has yet to be tested.

Its strength worries some in the United States, which backed Mubarak, as well as in Israel, for which Mubarak’s Egypt was an important ally in a predominantly hostile region.

The army has pledged to uphold Egypt’s international obligations, which include a peace treaty with Israel.

The widely loathed police were withdrawn from the streets on Jan. 28 after failing to crush protesters with batons, teargas, rubber bullets and live fire. The army stood by during those confrontations, without helping the protesters or the police.

There have been several police protests since Mubarak quit. On Monday in Tahrir, some complained about wages, others wanted immunity from prosecution over the policing of the revolt.

“We are with the people. We ask the people of Egypt not to ostracise us,” Lieutenant Mohammed Mestekawy told Reuters, as scuffles broke out between the marchers and bystanders.

“I do not believe them. Where were they when my brother was killed by thugs?” cried Samah Hassan, who picked a fight with one officer as the marchers headed to the Interior Ministry.

“They are free riders,” she shouted. “They want to claim the revolution for themselves. They are agents.”



“We are not traitors”

Youthful leader freed from detention energizes Egyptian protests with arrival in square

By The Associated PressThe Canadian Press

CAIRO – A massive crowd of anti-government protesters poured into Cairo‘s Tahrir Square again Tuesday, joined for the first time by a young leader of the campaign the day after he was released from detention and wept through a televised interview where he declared: “We are not traitors.”

The tens of thousands standing should-to-shoulder, one of the biggest crowds so far, gave a resounding answer to the question of whether they still had the momentum to go on even though two weeks of streets fights and sit-ins have not achieved their singular goal of ousting entrenched President Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled the country for 30 years.

Many said they were inspired by Wael Ghonim, the 30-year-old Google Inc. marketing manager who was a key organizer of the online campaign that sparked the first protest on Jan. 25. Straight from his release from 12 days of detention, Ghonim gave an emotionally charged television interview, sobbing at times over those who have been killed. He dubbed the protests “the revolution of the youth of the Internet.”

Fifi Shawqi, a 33-year-old upper-class housewife who came with her three daughters and her sister to the Tahrir protest for the first time, said Ghonim inspired her.

“I saw Wael yesterday (in the interview) and I cried. I felt like he is my son and all the youth here are my sons,” she said. “I think Wael brought many, many more.”

Others in the crowd said they too were joining for the first time.

Ghonim has emerged as a rallying point for protesters, who reject a group of traditional Egyptian opposition groups that have met with the government amid the most sweeping concessions the regime has made in its three decades in power.

The protesters are insisting that no concessions will do unless Mubarak steps down.