Egypt being governed same way as before, PM says
By Yasmine Saleh
Date: 13th February 2011
Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik speaks during a news conference in Cairo February 13, 2011.
CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt’s new prime minister said on Sunday the country was being governed in the same way it was under the ousted president — remarks likely to infuriate protesters keen to dismantle Hosni Mubarak’s ruling system.
Apparently seeking to reassure Egyptians that everything was under control, Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq said government affairs were being presented to the Higher Military Council, “as they were presented to the president of the republic”.
“There is no change in the form, method or process of work. Matters are completely stable,” he told a news conference.
Shafiq was appointed by Mubarak after he sacked his former cabinet on Jan. 29 in a vain effort to quell an uprising against his rule.
Mubarak stepped down on Friday, handing power to the Higher Military Council, headed by Defence Minister and armed forces commander Mohamed Hussein Tantawi. The council said on Saturday Shafiq’s government would stay on until a new one was formed.
“All matters are presented to the higher council, and the president of the higher council, as they were presented to the president of the republic,” Shafiq said, signalling no alteration yet to the system of rule protesters want to change.
Shafiq said he believed Mubarak was in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, and that the cabinet had not made any request to freeze the deposed president’s assets abroad. The cabinet spokesman added that “if there is a need, they will do it”.
Shafiq said the military would decide the role of Omar Suleiman, who was appointed vice president by Mubarak last month. Suleiman’s position has been in doubt since Mubarak resigned on Friday, handing power to the armed forces.
Finance Minister Samir Radwan told the same conference he expected economic growth to slow to 3.5 to 4 percent in the 2010/11 financial year. Before the upheaval, officials had forecast about 6 percent growth.
Egypt’s economy is “solid and cohesive”, Shafiq said. “We have enough reserves in the coming period and our situation is comforting, very comforting.”
He added that he did not expect Egypt’s nuclear power plant projects to be affected despite political turmoil. The country has said it aims to build four nuclear plants by 2025.
But if instability continues, he added, “some obstacles may occur and there may be some delay,” without giving details.
He also pledged to fight corruption, another grievance that fuelled the uprising. “I guarantee that this (cabinet) will return rights to the people and fight corruption,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Dina Zayed and Edmund Blair, Writing by Tom Perry and Alexander Dziadosz, Editing by Alistair Lyon and Elizabeth Fullerton)
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Mubarak loyalist becomes Egypt’s transition leader
By MAGGIE MICHAEL, Associated Press
Date: 15th February 2011
CAIRO – A U.S. diplomatic cable reported that the defense minister was known as “Mubarak’s poodle,” a derisive reference to his unswerving loyalty to the former authoritarian president.
Yet huge crowds of Egyptians who demonstrated for 18 days against Hosni Mubarak’s rule saw Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi and his troops as their savior. They appealed to the military to intervene in Egypt’s crisis, and the generals did.
Tantawi, the head of the ruling council that took power from Mubarak on Friday, is the new leader of what many Egyptians hope will be a radical transformation of their nation. The 75-year-old career soldier will be one of the most scrutinized figures in Egypt in the months ahead when his council has promised to steer the country toward a democratic system, sealed by elections.
But he is an unlikely steward for the task, a man said to be resistant to change and out of touch with the younger officer corps.
“Tantawi and the army gave a strong message to the public and Mubarak: We are with the people and their legitimate demands,” said Abdullah el-Sinnawi, editor-in-chief of el-Araby, an opposition weekly newspaper. “He managed to unify the army under his command,” el-Sinnawi added. Some low- and middle-ranking officers did not hide their sympathy for the protesters, cheering and mingling with demonstrators.
The generally positive reviews of the military’s actions, coming so soon after they took power, surprised some who thought Tantawi lacked the reflex for change.
On Tuesday, the Armed Forces Supreme Council said a panel of experts would craft constitutional amendments so as to allow free elections later this year. Previously, the military dissolved parliament, which was stacked with Mubarak loyalists, and suspended the constitution, meeting key demands of pro-democracy activists.
The military, which has long received huge quantities of U.S. aid, maneuvered deftly in the crisis. It did not use force against protesters, earning the gratitude of crowds that appealed for the armed forces to push Mubarak from power after nearly 30 years.
The military had sought a neutral role in the conflict. But it swung against the president in his final hours to prevent more bloodshed and chaos, saying it did not want all of Egypt’s achievements to be lost. The shift was evident on the ground, where soldiers tossed sweets, cookies and bottles of water to protesters outside a presidential palace in Cairo.
Also leaked U.S. diplomatic indicated there may have been some tensions between Tantawi and the Mubarak family. They said Tantawi was frustrated with the prospect that Mubarak’s son Gamal. might ascend to the presidency. Gamal Mubarak, in turn, was believed to be hostile to Tantawi and wanted him to be removed.
Tantawi himself showed populist savvy during the crisis by visiting Tahrir Square, the protest encampment occupied by tens of thousands of anti-Mubarak activists, who frequently chanted slogans such as “the army, the people, one hand,” extolling their unity.
During his visit about midway through the crisis, he appealed to the crowds to recognize Mubarak’s early concessions, including a promise not to run for re-election and an offer of dialogue. Protesters, however, were not satisfied.
Tantawi was the former commander of the elite Republican Guards, who protect the president and his palaces. As defense minister, he had a much lower profile than a predecessor, Abdel-Halim Abu Ghazala, who was widely popular among troops and civilians and was even talked about as a possible successor to Mubarak.
Mindful of that popularity, Mubarak sacked Abu Ghazala in 1989. In contrast, U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, the secret-sharing website, cited a report that army officers were disgruntled and disdainful of Tantawi, referring to him as a lackey of Mubarak who was incompetent and driving the military into decay.
A 2008 cable said of Tantawi: “He and Mubarak are focused on regime stability and maintaining the status quo through the end of their time. They simply do not have the energy, inclination or world view to do anything differently.”
Tantawi rarely appears in public, and has not made an appearance since Mubarak’s resignation on Friday. Previously, Egyptians saw him on television, saluting troops during annual celebrations, at funerals of top commander and at meetings with Mubarak.
One former sports and youth minister, Abdel Moneim Emra, said Tantawi opposed privatization, which was associated with Gamal Mubarak — a wealthy businessman who rose in the ranks of the ruling National Democratic Party and was considered a possible successor to his father.
El-Sinnawi, the newspaper editor, said Tantawi always perceived the privatization policies of Gamal and his associates as a kind of “new imperialism” that was draining Egypt’s ownership of its resources.
“He saw them as Western-minded kids who are selling the country,” el-Sinnawi said.
Tantawi’s philosophy recalls the anti-imperialism of Gamal Abdel Nasser, an Arab nationalist and military man who overthrew the monarchy in 1952 and implemented reforms in Egypt that were inspired by socialism.
Tantawi fought in Egypt’s three wars with Israel: in 1956, 1967 and 1973. In the last war, he led a battalion in a well-known battle called the “Chinese Farm.”
He was appointed chief commander of the armed forces in May 1991.
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Egyptian army hijacking revolution, activists fear
By Jack Shenker in Cairo
Date: 15th February 2011
Source: The Guardian
Military ruling council begins to roll out reform plans while civilian groups struggle to form united front
Egypt’s revolution is in danger of being hijacked by the army, key political activists have warned, as concrete details of the country’s democratic transition period were revealed for the first time.
Judge Tarek al-Beshry, a moderate Islamic thinker, announced that he had been selected by the military to head a constitutional reform panel. Its proposals will be put to a national referendum in two months’ time. The formation of the panel comes after high-ranking army officers met with selected youth activists on Sunday and promised them that the process of transferring power to a civilian government is now under way.
But the Guardian has learned that despite public pronouncements of faith in the military’s intentions, elements of Egypt’s fractured political opposition are deeply concerned about the army’s unilateral declarations of reform and the apparent unwillingness of senior officers to open up sustained and transparent negotiations with those who helped organise the revolution.
“We need the army to recognise that this is a revolution, and they can’t implement all these changes on their own,” said Alaa Abd El Fattah, a prominent youth activist. “The military are the custodians of this particular stage in the process, and we’re fine with that, but it has to be temporary.
“To work out what comes next there has to be a real civilian cabinet, of our own choosing, one that has some sort of public consensus behind it – not just unilateral communiques from army officers.”
There is consternation that the army is taking such a hard line on the country’s burgeoning wave of strikes, which has seen workers seeking not just to improve their economic conditions, but also to purge institutions of bosses they accuse of being corrupt and closely aligned to the old regime.
“These protests aren’t just wage-specific,” said Abd El Fattah. “They’re also about people at ground level wanting to continue the work of the revolution, pushing out regime cronies and reclaiming institutions like the professional syndicates and university departments that have long been commandeered by the state.”
The ruling military council has called on “noble Egyptians” to end all strikes immediately.
Egypt’s post-Mubarak political landscape has grown increasingly confused in the past few days, as the largely discredited formal opposition parties of the old era seek to reposition themselves as populist movements. Meanwhile younger, online-based groups are trying to capitalise on their momentum by forming their own political vehicles, and the previously outlawed Muslim Brotherhood has announced that it will form a legal political party.
After decades of stagnation, the country’s political spectrum is desperately trying to catch up with the largely leaderless events of the past few weeks and accommodate the millions of Egyptians politicised by Mubarak’s fall. “The current ‘opposition’ does not represent a fraction of those who participated in this revolution and engaged with Tahrir and other protest sites,” said Abd El Fattah. But with a myriad of short-lived alliances and counter-alliances developing among opposition forces in recent days, uncertainty about the country’s political future still prevails.
“Despite various attempts to form a united front, there’s nothing of the kind at this point – just a lot of division,” said Shadi Hamid, an Egypt expert at the Brookings Doha Centre. “You’ve got numerous groups, numerous coalitions, and everyone is meeting with everyone else. There’s a sense of organisational chaos. Everyone wants a piece of the revolution.”
This week a number of formal opposition parties, including the liberal Wafd party and the leftist Tagammu party, came together with members of the Muslim Brotherhood and a wide range of youth movements to try and elect a steering committee that could speak with a unified voice to the army commanders and negotiate the formation of a transitional government and presidential council.
Yet those plans have been overtaken by the speed of the military’s own independent proclamations on reform, raising fears that civilian voices are being shut out of the transitional process.
Some senior figures inside the coalition believe the army is deliberately holding high-profile meetings with individuals such as Google executive Wael Ghonim and the 6 April youth movement founder Ahmed Maher in an effort to appear receptive to alternative views, but without developing any sustainable mechanism through which non-military forces can play a genuine role in political reform.
“The military are talking to one or two ‘faces of the revolution’ that have no actual negotiating experience and have not been mandated by anyone to speak on the people’s behalf,” claimed one person involved with the new coalition. “It’s all very well for them to be apparently implementing our demands, but why are we being given no say in the process?
“They are talking about constitutional amendments, but most people here want a completely new constitution that limits the power of the presidency. They are talking about elections in a few months, and yet our political culture is still full of division and corruption.
“Many of us are now realising that a very well thought-out plan is unfolding step by step from the military, who of course have done very well out of the political and economic status quo. These guys are expert strategic planners after all, and with the help of some elements of the old regime and some small elements of the co-opted opposition, they’re trying to develop a system that looks vaguely democratic but in reality just entrenches their own privileges.”