Egypt new PM claims more powers than predecessor

 

Egypt's military rulers picked a prime minister from ousted leader Hosni Mubarak's era to head the next government in a move quickly rejected by tens of thousands of protesters, while the United States ratcheted up pressure on the generals to quickly transfer power to a civilian leadership. 

More than 100,000 people packed into Cairo's central Tahrir Square for their biggest demonstration since the current showdown began, with activists accusing the generals of trying to extend the old guard and demanding they step down immediately after failing to stabilise the country, salvage the economy or bring democracy following Mubarak's ouster. 

Tensions have risen ahead of parliamentary elections, set to begin on Monday. The election is to be staggered over multiple stages that end in March, and the military said today it would extend the voting period to two days for each round in an apparent effort to boost turnout due to the current unrest. The first stage covers nine provinces that include Cairo and the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria. 

Kamal el-Ganzouri, 78, served as prime minister between 1996 and 1999 and was deputy prime minister and planning minister before that. He also was a provincial governor under the late President Anwar Sadat. 

In a televised statement, he said the military has given him greater powers than his predecessor and he wouldn't have accepted the job if he believed military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi had any intention of staying in power. 

"The powers given to me exceed any similar mandates," he said, looking uncomfortable, grasping for words and repeatedly pausing as he spoke. "I will take full authority so I'm able to serve my country." 

He also said he won't be able to form a government before parliamentary elections start on Monday. 

The Obama administration, meanwhile, appeared to bring its position on the crisis in Egypt closer to the protesters' demands, urging the generals to fully empower the next interim civilian government. 

"We believe that Egypt's transition to democracy must continue, with elections proceeding expeditiously, and all necessary measures taken to ensure security and prevent intimidation," The White House said in a statement. "Most importantly, 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." 

The stance is significant because the Egyptian military has over the past 30 years forged close relations with successive US administrations, receiving $1.3 billion annually in aid. 

El-Ganzouri's appointment was announced by state TV following a meeting late yesterday between him and Tantawi. Tantawi was Mubarak's defense minister of 20 years and served in el-Ganzouri's earlier government. 

It was the latest in a series of efforts by the military to appease protesters without meeting their main demand of stepping down immediately. 

The generals also apologised yesterday for the killing of nearly 40 protesters in five days of deadly clashes, mostly centred on side streets near the square. This was the longest spate of uninterrupted violence since the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak on February 11. The streets were relatively calm today as a truce negotiated yesterday in Cairo continued to hold. 

But the choice of el-Ganzouri only deepened the anger of the protesters, already seething over the military's perceived reluctance to dismantle the legacy of Mubarak's 29-year rule. 

"Illegitimate, illegitimate!" the crowds in the downtown square chanted on hearing the news. 

"Not only was he prime minister under Mubarak, but also part of the old regime for a total of 18 years," said protester Mohammed el-Fayoumi, 29. "Why did we have a revolution then?" 

El-Ganzouri replaces Essam Sharaf, who resigned this week after nearly nine months in office amid deadly clashes between police and protesters calling for the military to immediately step down. Sharaf was criticised for being weak and beholden to the generals. 

The military has said parliamentary elections, the first since Mubarak's ouster, will be held on schedule despite the unrest in Cairo and a string of other cities to the north and south of the capital. Voting starts on Monday and concludes in March, meaning that el-Ganzouri could be prime minister only until a new government is formed following the seating of a new legislature. 

"El-Ganzouri is a new Sharaf. He's old regime," said Nayer Mustafa, 62. "The revolution was hijacked once. We won't let it happen again." 

Today's protest in Tahrir was dubbed by organisers as "The Last Chance Million-Man Protest." Swelling crowds chanted, "leave, leave" and "the people want to bring down the field marshal", in reference to Tantawi, who took over the reins of power from Mubarak. 

Pro-reform leader and Nobel peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei was mobbed by hundreds of supporters as he arrived in the square and took part in Friday prayers, leaving shortly afterwards. 

"He is here to support the revolutionaries," said protester Ahmed Awad, 35. "He came to see for himself the tragedy caused by the military." 

The demonstrators have vowed not to leave the sprawling plaza until the generals step down in favour of a civilian presidential council. Their show of resolve resembles that of the rallies which forced Mubarak to give up power. 

Fireworks lit the sky in the evening and a large banner strung over a side street called Mohammed Mahmoud, where most of the fighting occurred, declaring the street would now be called the "Eyes of the Revolution" street, in honour of the hundreds of protesters who suffered eye injuries as a result of tear gas used by police. 

About 5,000 supporters of the military staged their own demonstration several miles north of Tahrir in the district of Abbassiyah, not far from the Defence Ministry. 

Thousands of pro-democracy protesters also took to the streets in other cities, including at least 10,000 in Alexandria and smaller crowds in Luxor and Assiut in southern Egypt. 

The military has rejected calls to immediately step down, saying its claim to power is supported by the warm welcome given to troops who took over the streets from the discredited police early in the anti-Mubarak uprising as well as an overwhelming endorsement for constitutional amendments they proposed in a March referendum. 

Tantawi has offered another referendum on whether his military council should step down immediately. 

Such a vote, activists say, would divide the nation and likely open the door for a deal between the military and political groups, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt's largest and best organised group, the Brotherhood is notorious for its opportunism and thirst for power. It was empowered after the fall of Mubarak, regaining legitimacy after spending nearly 60 years as an outlawed group.

AP

Suggested Topics
Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife
film

Matt Smith is set to join cast of Jane Austen classic - with a twist

Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
tv

News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmWhat makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes hobby look 'dysfunctional'
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

KS1 Float Teacher needed in the Vale

£100 - £110 per day + Travel scheme plus free professional trainnig: Randstad ...

Science Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Are you a qualified secondary...

KS2 Float Teacher required in Caerphilly

£100 - £110 per day + Travel Scheme plus free professional training: Randstad ...

Science Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Are you a qualified secondary...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week