|Egypt has been embroiled in daily protests over the parliamentary election process and and a new constitution [AFP]
A new cabinet has been sworn in by Egypt's ruling military council as it tries to appease protesters demanding faster reforms and a deeper purge of former President Hosni Mubarak's allies.
More than half of the ministers have been changed, including those holding the foreign, finance and trade portfolios. Some of those removed were appointed by Mubarak.
The new ministers, including the foreign minister, Mohamed Kamel Amr, took the oath of office in the presence of Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the ruling military council, official news agency MENA said.
Protesters camped out in Cairo's Tahrir Square have demanded faster political and economic reform, a swift move to democratic civilian rule, and the removal from government of members of deposed Mubarak's now defunct political party.
Essam Sharaf, the prime minister who heads the interim government, had hoped the cabinet reshuffle would persuade protesters to end the sit-in.
But many continued their demonstration at Tahrir Square on Thursday despite the reshuffle, saying that the new cabinet retains ministers they wanted sacked for their alleged links to the Mubarak.
Among them is Abdel Aziz al-Gindi, the justice minister, who protesters accuse of delaying trials of former regime officials, including Mubarak.
Mansur Essawy, the interior minister, has also kept his post.
Activists have called for a massive demonstration on Friday, dubbing it the "Decisive Friday", after the new cabinet line-up failed to meet their demands.
"Of course this is entirely insufficient. He should start to choose
ministers who express the will of the revolutionaries, who
are protesting here, who have demands which so far have not
been fulfilled at all," Ashraf Habash, a protester in Tahrir Square, said.
Ashraf Gaber, another demonstrator, said: "We are demanding from you Dr Essam Sharaf implement the things that you swore to do. The new formation of the cabinet that you have carried out is just a tranquiliser. Pain relief just won't work for us."
For his part, Hasan Abdul Moneim, an activist, called on the military to stop interfering in the interim government's work.
"We want the military council to remove its hand from
the decisions that the cabinet is supposed to be free to
make," he said.
"And the ministers should not just be a quick fix.
They should not bring in some people from the previous
regime to sit with people from the new government."
Mubarak, who has been in hospital in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh since April, is due to go on trial on August 3.
Regular reports of continued health problems have led to speculation that he might never face trial and heightened suspicions the army want to avoid a public humiliation for their former commander in chief.
Earlier, Egypt's council of military rulers indicated it will not allow international monitors to observe upcoming parliamentary elections.
Major-General Mamdouh Shaheen, who presented the new election law to reporters on Wednesday, said barring foreign monitors was a necessary step to protect Egypt's sovereignty.
"We have nothing to hide," he said.
He said the generals "reject anything that affects our sovereignty" and that Egyptian election monitors will observe the process instead.
The decision was criticised by activists, who said it raises questions about the transparency of the first elections after Mubarak's toppling and urged the military to reconsider.
Military decision criticised
Hafez Abou Saada, a member of the National Council for Human Rights, said promises of free and fair elections from the military are not enough, and noted that barring international monitors mirrors the line adopted by Mubarak's government.
"International monitors are part of any modern elections," he said.
"Many countries are watching what is happening in Egypt. This is not a very positive signal."
The new law also lowers the minimum age for candidacy for the lower house from 30 to 25, apparently to allow youth who led the 18-day uprising against Mubarak.
Rules for the upper house remain the same: candidates must be at least 35 years old, and a newly elected president will appoint 100 of the body's 390 members.
Shaheen, the military council member. said the judiciary will oversee the whole electoral process, limiting the role of the interior ministry, which many Egyptians say remains tainted by its many years as the Mubarak government's enforcer, and was responsible for much of the rigging in previous elections.
The voting itself, which will be for the upper and lower houses of parliament at the same time, will be spread over a month before the end of 2011, and the army will set their date by decree before the end of next month, Shaheen said.
The final election law has also brushed aside demands by political groups that aimed to shield the electoral system against vote buying, rampant under the Mubarak government, and the return of former regime officials by barring individual candidates.
Instead, the law allows for half of the 504 seats up for grabs to be contested by individual candidates instead of party lists.