Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Egypt in turmoil as cabinet offers to quit

Cairo protests against military rule continue as clashes leave at least 33 dead, prompting cabinet's offer to resign.

22 Nov 2011 Al Jazeera

Egypt's interim cabinet has offered its resignation to the country's
ruling military council as clashes raged for a third day in Cairo's Tahrir
Square, pitting police and soldiers against protesters demanding
democratic change.

"The government of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf has handed its resignation
to the [ruling] Supreme Council of the Armed Forces," Mohammed Hegazy,
cabinet spokesperson, said in a statement aired on Monday night by the
official MENA news agency.

"Owing to the difficult circumstances the country is going through, the
government will continue working" until the resignation is accepted,
Hegazy added.

The military council on Monday appealed for calm and asked the country's
justice ministry to investigate the violence, the worst since Hosni
Mubarak, Egypt's former president was toppled in February.

In a statement, it invited "all the political and national forces for an
emergency dialogue to look into the reasons behind the aggravation of the
current crisis and ways to resolve it as quickly as possible."

Egypt's health ministry said at least 33 people had been killed and 1,500
wounded in clashes between government forces and protesters since
Saturday, raising concerns over parliamentary elections due to begin later
this month.

'Organised protests'

"Thousands of people in unison are chanting 'The people want the end of
the field marshal’,” Al Jazeera’s Sherine Tadros reported on Monday night
from Tahrir Square, referring to Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi,
the leader of the military council.
Locations where Egyptians were protesting on Monday

Tahrir Square has become the major rallying point for protesters,
recalling the 18-day uprising that ended Mubarak's three decades of power.

Tadros reported that thousands of people began flocking into Tahrir Square
on Monday evening, with ambulances coming in to take away the injured.

"The resolve of people is pretty amazing, they keep showing up… everyone
seems to feel this is very much a battle between them and the police,” she

Egyptian political forces behind the uprising that toppled Mubarak called
for a mass rally on Tuesday to demand the army cede power to civilian
Tahrir Square and surrounding area in central Cairo

The Coalition of Revolution Youth and the April 6 movement, among others
called for the protest at 4:00 pm local time (14:00 GMT) on Tuesday in
Tahrir Square.

Reporting from the seaside town of Alexandria, Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh
said a "million man march" was also being planned there for Tuesday.

Sporadic clashes between protesters and security forces erupted throughout
the day on Monday in Cairo and other parts of the country, notably
Alexandria and Suez in the north.

During the clashes in Cairo, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets
while protesters broke up pavements to hurl chunks of concrete at police.

General Saeed Abbas, deputy head of the central military region, said that
the military was protecting government buildings and not targeting

"The armed forces were dispatched following a request from the interior
minister. It was approved by the head of the military supreme council to
assist the security forces in protecting the ministry of interior, nothing
else," Abbas said.

"They did not come to disperse protesters, or to remove them from Tahrir
Square. They didn't leave the vicinity of the interior ministry."

Few of the protesters believe this message, however, as footage showing
apparent police brutality continues to emerge.

Military seeks distance

As the death toll rose on Monday, the military council tried to distance
itself from the violence, reiterating its commitment to its "road map" for
transition and expressing "sorrow" over the situation.
Follow our coverage of the historic vote

Egyptians are scheduled to elect a new parliament in a staggered vote that
starts on November 28. Yet, even when the assembly is picked, executive
powers would remain with the army until a presidential election, which may
not happen until late 2012 or early 2013. Protesters want a much swifter
transition with presidential elections by April next year.

"We are all insisting on having the election on time; the government,
parties and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces," Hegazy, the cabinet
spokesperson, said.

The security crackdown on protesters elicited condemnation from parties
across the political spectrum; from Mohamed ElBaradei, a presidential
hopeful and head of the National Association for Change, to the Muslim
Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party.

Anti-graft law

In what appeared to be a concession to the protesters, Egypt's ruling
generals issued a law on Monday barring anyone found guilty of corruption
from politics, but protesters said it would not allay their concerns that
former supporters of Mubarak may regain influence.

"The council is out of step with the people," Mohamed Fahmy, an activist,

A press conference planned for Monday to detail how the election process
would proceed was postponed with no new date set.

Meanwhile, several political parties and individual candidates said they
were suspending their electoral campaign, raising concerns over whether
the vote would go ahead at all.

Egypt's Cabinet resigns amid widening protests

By MAGGIE MICHAEL | Associated Press Nov. 21, 2011

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's state television says the Cabinet has submitted its
resignation to the ruling military council but will stay on to run the
nation's day-to-day affairs until a decision is made.

The resignation of the Cabinet on Monday came amid widening protests
against the ruling military. Protesters are demanding that the military
quickly announce a date for the handover of power to a civilian
government. At least 24 protesters have been killed in the past three

Prime Minister Essam Sharaf's government has come under consistent
criticism from across the political spectrum since it came to office in
March for its perceived inefficiency and its subordination to the

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information.
AP's earlier story is below.

CAIRO (AP) — Security forces fired tear gas and clashed Monday with
several thousand protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square in the third straight
day of violence that has killed at least 24 people and has turned into the
most sustained challenge yet to the rule of Egypt's military.

After months of growing tensions between the two sides, revolutionary
activists threw down the gauntlet, vowing they would not leave the iconic
downtown roundabout until the ruling generals leave power — or at least
set a clear date for doing so.

Repeated attempts by security forces and military police over the weekend
have failed to eject them from the square, and the rising death toll has
only brought out more and angrier protesters.

But the bid to launch what some tout as a "second revolution" is snarled
by politics, with Egypt coming up on key parliament elections only a week
away. The loose coalition of groups that led the 18-day uprising that
ousted Hosni Mubarak in February is fragmented. In particular, the Muslim
Brotherhood, which gave the first revolution powerful muscle, so far
refuses to take to the streets again, fearing the turmoil will derail
elections it expects to dominate.

And those in the square have yet to find cohesion on a picture for what's
next. Some want the military out immediately. Others would be happy with a
set date in the near future for them to quit power. Many want the military
to transfer power to a national unity government.

"We want the council to leave immediately so we can continue our
revolution, which the military sold out," said Mohammed Ali, a shoemaker
among the protesters, referring to the Supreme Council of the Armed
Forces. "A civilian Cabinet from the square is what we want."

Throughout the day, young activists skirmished with black-clad police,
hurling stones and firebombs and throwing back the tear gas canisters
being fired by police into the square, which was the epicenter of the
anti-Mubarak protest movement. Sounds of gunfire crackled around the
square, and a constant stream of injured protesters — bloodied from rubber
bullets or overcome by gas — were brought into makeshift clinics set out
on sidewalks, where volunteer doctors scrambled from patient to patient.

An Egyptian morgue official said the toll had climbed to 24 dead since the
violence began Saturday — a jump from the toll of five dead around
nightfall Sunday, reflecting the ferocity of fighting through the night.
The official spoke on condition of because he was not authorized to
release the numbers. Hundreds have been injured, according to doctors in
the square.

The eruption of violence, which began Saturday, reflects the frustration
and confusion that has mired Egypt's revolution since Mubarak fell and the
military stepped in to take power. Protesters also marched Monday other
cities, including thousands of students in the coastal city of Alexandria.

Activists and many in the public accuse the ruling Supreme Council of the
Armed Forces of seeking to hold on to power, and they fear that no matter
who wins the election the military will dominate the next government just
as they have the current, interim one they appointed months ago. Many
Egyptians are also frustrated by the failure of the military or the
caretaker government to conduct any real reforms, quiet widespread
insecurity or salvage a rapidly worsening economy.

The military says it will hand over power only after presidential
elections, which it has vaguely said will be held in late 2012 or early
2013. The protesters are demanding an immediate move to civilian rule. On
Monday, a group of 133 diplomats from Egypt's Foreign Ministry took the
rare step of issuing a petition demanding the military commit to hold
presidential elections and transfer power by 2012.

"What does it mean, transfer power in 2013? It means simply that he wants
to hold on to his seat," said a young protester, Mohammed Sayyed,
referring to the head of the Supreme Council, Field Marshall Hussein

Sayyed held two rocks, ready to throw, as he took cover from tear gas in a
side street off Tahrir. His head was bandaged from what he said was a
rubber bullet that hit him earlier Monday.

"I will keep coming back until they kill me," he said. "The people are
frustrated. Nothing changed for the better."

During an overnight assault, police hit one of the field clinics with
heavy barrages of tear gas, forcing the staff to flee, struggling to carry
out the wounded. Some were moved to a nearby sidewalk outside a Hardees
fast food restaurant. A video posted on social networking sites showed a
soldier dragging the motionless body of a protester along the street and
leaving him in a garbage-strewn section of Tahrir.

The military on Sunday night issued a statement saying it did not intend
to "extend the transitional period" and vowed not to let anyone hinder the
"democratic transition." The government has said elections will be held on
schedule, starting on Nov. 28 and extending over numerous phases for
several months.

Amnesty International condemned the violence.

"While the Egyptian authorities have a duty to maintain law and order,
they must not use excessive force to crack down on peaceful protests,
something that poses a severe threat to Egyptians' rights to assembly and
freedom of expression," the London-based group said in a statement.

So far, the powerful Muslim Brotherhood has declined to join the Tahrir
protests, though some individual members are participating. Their
reluctance is believed to be because of worries the demands for the
military's exit will lead to a postponement of parliament elections, in
which the group is expected to make a powerful showing. Some of the
secular protesters in Tahrir are worried the vote will give too much power
to the fundamentalist group.

Monday afternoon, a prominent Brotherhood figure, Mohammed el-Beltagy,
visited the square and was met by heckling and volleys of thrown water
bottles from protesters angry at the group's refusal to join.

As the violence raged, the military council issued a long-awaited
anti-graft law that bans anyone convicted of corruption from running for
office or holding a government post.

The timing of the move suggested it was an attempt to placate protesters.
But the law falls far short of demands by many that all members of
Mubarak's former ruling party be banned from politics.

The interim government also said Monday it was seeking to replace culture
minister Emad Abu Ghazi, who submitted his resignation Sunday to protest
the Cabinet's response to Tahrir clashes, MENA reported.

The protesters' suspicions about the military were fed by a proposal
issued by the military-appointed Cabinet last week that would shield the
armed forces from any civilian oversight and give the generals veto power
over legislation dealing with military affairs. It would also give them
considerable power over the body that is to be created after the election
to draft a new constitution. Activists already accuse the military of
ruling with the same autocratic style of Mubarak.

Furthermore, there is widespread discontent with a military-backed
government that has been unable — or unwilling — to act as woes have
mounted in Egypt.

Over recent months, security around the country has fallen apart, with
increased crime, sectarian violence and tribal disputes. The economy has
badly deteriorated. Because of the weekend violence, Egypt's main stock
index fell for a second straight day Monday, and airport officials
reported a sharp drop Monday in international passenger arrivals — a
further blow to the country's crucial tourism industry, which is one of
the top foreign currency earners.

One of the most prominent democracy proponents in the country, Nobel Peace
laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, called on the civilian government to resign
and for a national unity government to be formed "grouping all the
factions so it can begin to solve the problems of Egyptians."

"Power is now in the hands of the military council, which is not qualified
to run the country, and the government, which has no authority," he said
on a TV political talk show late Sunday. For the next six months, "we want
see the powers of the military council given completely to a civilian,
national unity government, and the military goes back to just defending
the borders."


Associated Press writer Ben Hubbard contributed reporting.

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