Anger grows after Mubarak loyalist returns as leader

Military Council's choice of a new Prime Minister frustrates activists ahead of Monday's elections

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The Independent Online

With tens of thousands of protesters maintaining a grip on the heart of Cairo, Egypt's frustrated revolutionaries were further angered yesterday when the country's ruling Military Council appointed a long-time Mubarak loyalist as Prime Minister despite continuing demands for a new civilian government.

The appointment of Kamal el-Ganzouri, 78, was met with bemusement and dismay in Tahrir Square, where a more popular option, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, was feted, an Egyptian flag draped over his shoulders. Such is the chaos that, with little more than 48 hours to go before the first democratic elections in Egypt's history, it seems hard to believe that any such vote will really take place.

With activists at at loggerheads with the military and the authorities accused of killing dozens of them, any semblance of the unity which once characterised Egypt's revolution is rapidly falling apart. Mr Ganzouri, who served as Prime Minister between 1996 and 1999, appealed to the people last night: "give me a chance". In a separate, televised statement he said the Military Council had furnished him with stronger powers than his predecessor – but few were convinced by a figure so associated with the ancien régime.

One user of Twitter wryly wondered about Mr Ganzouri's age, noting how he had been born during the time of the Great Depression. According to one military source, Mr Ganzouri was a fifth-choice candidate.

The Americans have now also entered the fray, with the White House issuing a statement which appeared to correspond closely to what many of the protesters in Tahrir Square are demanding.

Asking that Egypt's generals give adequate powers to the next interim government, the statement added: "We believe that the full transfer of power to a civilian government must take place in a just and inclusive manner that responds to the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people, as soon as possible."

It is a line which chimes with the central demand of protesters in Tahrir Square, who want an immediate transfer of powers to an interim authority. During another rally of about 100,000 people in central Cairo yesterday, Nevine Ali, 24, a marketing employee, explained why she would be staying put in Egypt's central square.

"The Military Council came from Tahrir Square," she said, referring to the 18 days of civil strife earlier this year which eventually bought Egypt's generals to power. "Without Tahrir Square, there would be no Military Council today in power.

"If the protesters stay in the square they will put a lot of pressure on the government," she added.

Yesterday's protest was dubbed the "Last Chance Million Man Protest", in a nod to the approaching parliamentary poll. Demonstrators camping out in central Cairo hope that, by turning the screw on Egypt's generals, they can persuade them to step down from power immediately and hand authority to the so-called interim "salvation" authority.

As one flier from a group calling itself the New Republic said, activists want to stop being "exploited by the Military Council" and avoid living in a "militarised state". There is only one problem: the Military Council has effectively already torpedoed the idea, saying this week that such a move would amount to a national "betrayal".

Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi has floated the possibility of taking the proposal to a referendum, yet many demonstrators believe this is nothing but a ploy to divide Egyptians.

It leaves Egypt once again on the brink. A ceasefire brokered on Thursday between protesters and the police remains in place, but so do the fundamental political differences which have prolonged the conflict.

"I think the revolution will continue," said Emad Gad, an Egyptian political expert who is also due to be running in Monday's parliamentary poll. "The Military Council is refusing to listen to Tahrir Square.

"Up until now I cannot understand how the military will continue with elections, given the situation in Cairo and the rest of the country," he added.

The past five days of rioting, which began when police violently broke up a small sit-in in Tahrir Square on Saturday morning, have culminated in the deaths of dozens of people.

This came on the back of growing disaffection with the military, which culminated last month in a deadly attack on Christian demonstrators by the army in central Cairo.

For many activists, yesterday's appointment of Mr Ganzouri was just the latest kick in the face from a Military Council which apparently can get little right.

Yet this is not by any means the whole picture. Yesterday a counter-rally of Military Council supporters was held in a district north of Tahrir, drawing thousands of supporters.

Egypt's generals have made clear they believe the protesters in Tahrir Square do not reflect the majority opinion in Egypt. In the words of retired General Sameh Seif al-Yazal, "the demonstration in Abbasiyah proves there are other opinions".

If they decide to press ahead with elections on Monday, Egypt's fragile ceasefire will be sorely tested.


Media anger at call to bar female reporters

A journalists’ outcry forced a press rights group yesterday to withdraw advice to editors not to send female journalists to the Cairo riots.

Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) had issued a statement saying the situation in Tahrir Square was too dangerous for women following a number of sexual assaults.

“For the time being [media should] stop sending female journalists to cover the situation in Egypt,” the organisation said. “It is unfortunate that we have come to this but, given the violence of these assaults, there is no other solution.”

Its statement came after a French television journalist, Caroline Sinz, was molested by protesters. She said she had been assaulted in a way that “would be considered rape”. An Egyptian- American journalist, Mona Eltahawy, also revealed she had been sexually assaulted this week after being arrested in Cairo.

RSF received a torrent of criticism from reporters. Sarah Carr, a journalist in Cairo, tweeted: “Why are RSF telling female journos not to go to Tahrir? They don’t tell male journos not to go places cos there are bombs and guns.”

RSF amended its advice, instead simply urging that reporters’ safety should be a priority.