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Middle East
Ex-judge to head Egypt reform panel
Military rulers pick head of committee entrusted with suggesting changes to the country's constitution.
Last Modified: 15 Feb 2011 14:37 GMT
Normality is returning to Egypt, but many are still concerned over what the future holds  [GALLO/GETTY]

Egypt's new army rulers have appointed Tareq al-Bishry, a retired judge, to head a committee set up to suggest constitutional changes.

Al-Bishry was a strong supporter of an independent judiciary during Hosni Mubarak's rule and is respected in legal circles for his independent views.

"I have been chosen by the Higher Military Council to head the committee for constitutional amendments," al-Bishry said on Tuesday.

The Higher Military Council had earlier vowed to rewrite the constitution within 10 days and put it to a referendum within two months.

The existing constitution, which the military council has suspended, had built-in guarantees to keep Mubarak and his allies in power.

The amendments added during his rule strengthened the establishment's grip on power.

Officials dismissed

The appointment of al-Bishry comes as the military rulers, in control of the country following the ouster of Mubarak, are attempting to restore normality after weeks of turmoil.

As part of a continuing purge of Mubarak-era officials, Adly Fayed, the director of public security at the interior ministry, and Ismail El Shaer, Cairo's security chief, have been sacked for their involvement in the decision to open fire on pro-democracy demonstrators during the uprising.

Their dismissals are aimed at placating public anger against the much-hated security forces that the Mubarak government apparently used to stifle dissent.

The military rulers have also dissolved the parliament and promised free and fair elections.

Egypt, Middle-East's most populous nation, has been in upheaval since January 25, when protests against Mubarak's 30-year rule erupted.

Though Mubarak quit last Friday, protests, sit-ins and strikes at state-owned institutions including the stock exchange, media groups and railways, are disrupting normal life.

The military council on Monday urged Egyptians to return to work.

"Noble Egyptians see that these strikes, at this delicate time, lead to negative results," a military spokesman said.

The strikes eased on Tuesday, mainly because an Islamic holiday meant state offices and businesses were closed. Still, smaller protests by hundreds continued in at least seven provinces outside Cairo, including by government workers and police over pay.

Fishermen in the Nile Delta demanded an end to restrictions on where they can fish in a lake north of the capital. Sugar cane growers in the southern city of Luxor demonstrated demanding higher prices for their crops.

Uncertain times

Al Jazeera's James Bays, reporting from Cairo, said Egyptians faced uncertain times.

"Life is returning to some normality. However, many people have concerns, there is a great deal of uncertainty and that is why the army has decided that the stock market should remain closed.

"But most of the people here respect the military, and the miltary has said that they will come up with the first draft of constitutional reforms within 10 days so that is reassuring for the people.

"Ahmed Shafiq, the prime minister, has told foreign leaders that he is trying to reshuffle his cabinet, taking out some Mubarak appointees and replacing them with others."

For its part, the long banned but tolerated Muslim Brotherhood said on Tuesday it intended to form a political party once democracy was established.

"The Muslim Brotherhood group believes in the freedom of the formation of political parties. They are eager to have a political party," Mohammed Mursi, a spokesman, said in a statement on the group's website.

Essam el-Arian, a senior leader in the Brotherhood, said the movement would not run any candidate for planned presidential elections, acknowledging that such a move would be too controversial.

"We are not going to have a candidate for the upcoming presidential elections. It's time for solidarity, it's time for unity, in my opinion we need a national consensus," he said.

But he confirmed the Brotherhood's leadership had decided on the creation of a party. 

'Freeze the assets'

In another development, Egypt has asked the US, Britain and France to freeze the assets of officials close to Mubarak. An EU diplomat said Egypt had made a similar request to the European Union.

However, both Washington and Paris said that Mubarak was not on the list.

Activists have called for the cash to be clawed back to help alleviate poverty in Egypt. Switzerland has already said it has frozen assets that may belong to Mubarak.

Al Jazeera's Paul Brennan, reporting from London, said "the request from Egypt comes at an opportune time as the EU finance ministers are meeting anyway".

"The Europeans have been particularly receptive to this request ... George Osborne, British foreign minister, has advocated all 27 EU nations to get together in a pan-European effort to freeze the assets."

A senior EU diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Al Jazeera that "the request covers the riches accumulated by six or seven close aides of Mubarak and he said that Mubarak's name was not even being discussed or debated."

"There will be investigations and if no evidence of wrongdoing is found then those assets will be returned to the owners," Al Jazeera's Brennan said.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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