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.

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 remained 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 returned to 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 said.

Egyptian political forces behind the uprising that toppled Mubarak called for a mass rally on Tuesday to demand the army cede power to a civilian government.

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 4:00pm 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, the day after sporadic clashes between protesters and security forces erupted 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 pavement 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 protesters.

“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 believed this message, however, as footage showing apparent police brutality continued to emerge.

Military seeking distance

As the death toll rose on Monday, the military council tried to distance itself from the violence, reiterating commitment to its “road map” for transition and expressing “sorrow” over the situation.

Egyptians are scheduled to elect a new parliament in a staggered vote starting 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 2012.

“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, said.

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 campaigns, raising concerns over whether the vote would go ahead at all.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies