Army to remove protesters; focus on economy
Cairo, February 13, 2011
Egypt's military rulers ordered protesters to leave Tahrir Square, a symbol of the tumultuous revolt that toppled Hosni Mubarak, as the cabinet on Sunday made law and order and restarting the economy its top priorities.
'The army is the backbone of Egypt. Their solution is not to remove us from the square,' said a protester over loudspeakers, as the army moved in, pushing and occasionally lashing out with sticks. 'They must respond to our demands.'
The Arab world's most populous country is taking its first tentative steps towards democracy and protest organisers are forming a Council of Trustees to defend the revolution and negotiate with a military that wants life to return to normal.
'We do not want any protesters to sit in the square after today,' Mohamed Ibrahim Moustafa Ali, the head of military police, told protesters, while soldiers removed tents from the square, the epicentre of opposition to Mubarak's 30-year rule.
Egypt's cabinet, appointed when the 82-year-old president was still in office, would not undergo a major reshuffle and would stay to oversee the political transition to civilian rule in the coming months, a cabinet spokesman told Reuters.
A cabinet meeting, due later on Sunday, could provide some answers to a protest movement hungry for change after the momentous revolution that shocked and enthralled the Middle East, sending a warning to autocratic rulers across the region.
'The shape of the government will stay until the process of transformation is done in a few months, then a new government will be appointed based on the democratic principles in place,' the spokesman said, adding some portfolios might change hands.
'The main task of this government is to restore security and order and also start the economic process, and to take care of day-to-day life,' he said.
As if to reinforce this message, soldiers and military police in the early hours of Sunday broke up the mass protest in Tahrir Square into small groups to allow traffic to flow freely for the first time in two weeks to get people back to work.
Protesters said soldiers had detained some of their leaders and more than 30 people had been taken to an army holding area around the Egyptian Museum, which houses a unique collection of ancient artefacts, next to the square. The army had no immediate comment.
The army has said it respects the demands of protesters, whose mass action drove Hosni Mubarak from power. But it has also called on them to go home and let normal life resume.
Protests erupted on Jan. 25 and traffic stopped flowing through Tahrir after Jan. 28. The square became the epicentre of nationwide demonstrations, with many protesters camping there.
The early morning violence did not last long, but the army action, backed by dozens of military police, split demonstrators who had previously controlled the square into smaller groups.
'In the square, in the square, we demand our rights in the square,' some chanted as soldiers corralled the crowd.
About 2,000 demonstrators remained in the square and some tents were still pitched in the grassy central area.
Although Mubarak's resignation on Saturday met the key demand of protesters, many said they planned to stay in the square to ensure the military council now in charge of Egypt made way for civilian rule and democracy as it had promised.
Protesters demand the abolition of emergency law that has been used to stifle dissent for three decades, the release of all political prisoners, and free and fair elections.
'The army is the backbone of Egypt. The solution is not to remove us from the square. They must respond to our demands,' said a protester over loudspeakers.
Protesters said soldiers had detained some of their leaders and that more than 30 people had been taken to an army holding area around the Egyptian Museum, next to the square.
Troops were ordered onto the streets on Jan. 28 after police fought street battles to try to contain protests but lost control. The army has taken a largely neutral role, but has detained some protesters and journalists, often briefly.
'There is no enmity between the people and armed forces ... We ask you not to attack our sons. This is not the (behaviour) of the armed forces. This is a peaceful protest,' one protester said on loudspeakers.
'We demand that the armed forces release all our sons that have been arrested in Tahrir.'
Some passersby felt the time for protests was over. 'Haven't they got what they want? Can someone explain to me what is left of their demands?' asked one bystander.
But Jihad Laban, an accountant, said much work remained to make sure the revolution did not squander what it had gained.
'We stood by the army in their revolution,' he said, alluding to the 1952 coup that toppled the British-backed king. 'They need to stand with us in ours.
'The goal was never just to get rid of Mubarak. The system is totally corrupt and we won't go until we see some real reforms. I am going to be buried in Tahrir, I am here for my children. Egypt is too precious to walk away now.'
A 38-year-old industrial worker who gave his name only as Mohamed, said he had changed his mind about going home.
'I was going to leave today, but after what the military has done, the millions will be back again. The corrupt system still stands. It has gone back to using the only thing it understands -- force. If we leave, they won't respond to our demands.' - Reuters