Egypt’s military erases signs of Mubarak’s rule
CAIRO, Egypt – Egypt’s military rulers took sweeping action to dismantle the autocratic legacy of former President Hosni Mubarak on Sunday, dissolving parliament, suspending the constitution and promising elections in moves cautiously welcomed by pro-democracy protesters.
The caretaker government, backed by the military, said restoring security after the 18-day uprising that ousted Mubarak was a top priority even as labor unrest reflected one of the many challenges of steering the Arab world’s biggest nation toward stability and democracy.
Egypt’s upheaval was also splintering into a host of smaller grievances, the inevitable outcome of emboldened citizens feeling free to speak up, most for the first time.
They even included about 2,000 police, widely hated for brutality and corruption under Mubarak, who marched to the Interior Ministry to demand better pay and conditions. They passed through the protest camp at Tahrir Square, where demonstrators hurled insults, calling them “pigs” and “dogs.”
Egypt’s state news agency announced banks would be closed today due to strikes and again Tuesday for a public holiday. Dozens of employees protested against alleged corruption at the state television building, which broadcast pro-Mubarak messages during the massive demonstrations against his rule.
The caretaker government met for the first time, and employees removed a huge framed photograph of Mubarak from the meeting room before they convened.
The crowds in the protest encampment that became a symbol of defiance against the government thinned out Sunday, the first working day since the regime fell. Traffic flowed through the downtown area for the first time in weeks. Troops cleared most of the makeshift tents and scuffled with holdout activists.
The protesters have been pressing the ruling military council, led by Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi, to immediately move forward with the transition by appointing a presidential council, dissolving parliament and releasing political prisoners. Thousands have remained in Tahrir Square and some want to keep up the pressure for immediate steps, including repeal of repressive emergency laws that give police broad power.
While some protesters said they are willing to give the ruling council a chance to fulfill pledges to move the nation toward democracy, communication between their movement and the military has been minimal.
On Sunday, the first tentative steps at communication took place when several protest organizers met with the council, according to Bassem Kamel, a member of a youth coalition formed during the protests. He said the results were encouraging.
The 18-member Supreme Council of the Armed Forces allayed some concerns by dismissing the legislature, packed with Mubarak loyalists, and sidelining the constitution, used by Mubarak to buttress his rule. Activists said they would closely watch the military to ensure it does not abuse its unchecked power – something that is clearly starting to make some uneasy.
The council “believes that human freedom, the rule of law, support for the value of equality, pluralistic democracy, social justice, and the uprooting of corruption are the bases for the legitimacy of any system of governance that will lead the country in the upcoming period,” the council said in a statement.
“They have definitely started to offer us what we wanted,” said activist Sally Touma, who also wants the release of political prisoners and repeal of an emergency law that grants wide powers to police.
The military council, which has issued a stream of communiqués since taking power, said parliamentary and presidential elections will be held, but did not set a timetable. It said it will run the country for six months, or until elections can be held.
It said it will represent Egypt in all internal and external affairs and proclaimed the right to set temporary laws. It was expected to clarify the scope of its legal authority as the complex transition unfolds and the role of the judiciary remains unclear.
It said it was forming a committee to amend the constitution and set rules for a popular referendum to endorse the amendments.
Protesters are demanding that the constitution be amended to impose term limits on the president, open up competition for the presidency, and remove restrictions on creating political parties. Others want an entirely new constitution.
Judge Hisham Bastawisi, a reformist judge, said the military measures “should open the door for free formation of political parties and open the way for any Egyptian to run for presidential elections.”
Hossam Bahgat, director of the non-governmental Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said the steps were positive but warned that Egypt was on uncharted legal ground.
“In the absence of a constitution, we have entered a sort of ‘twilight zone’ in terms of rules, so we are concerned,” he said. “We are clearly monitoring the situation and will attempt to influence the transitional phase so as to respect human rights.”
Both the lower and upper houses of parliament are being dissolved. The last parliamentary elections in November and December were marked by allegations of fraud by the ruling party, which was accused of virtually shutting out the opposition.
Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq said the military would decide whether Omar Suleiman, who was appointed vice president by Mubarak in a failed attempt to appease protesters, would play some role in Egypt’s transition.
He also denied reports that Mubarak had fled to Germany or the United Arab Emirates, saying the former president remained in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, where he went soon after stepping down.
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