Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Egypt's military seeks to restore stability

Written by Reuters Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Egypt's military rulers are expected to step up efforts to restore stability, hoping a promise of a swift transition to democracy will prevent a new flare-up in the protests which forced out Hosni Mubarak.

Facing a wave of strikes, the military rulers held talks on Monday with young activists who were at the forefront of the uprising which ousted president Mubarak on Friday.

Wael Ghonim, a Google executive who had been detained for his part in the uprising, said members of the military council had told him a plebiscite would be held on constitutional amendments in two months, Reuters reports.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague also said Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik had let him know that he would reshuffle his cabinet in the coming week to bring in opposition figures.

But with anger still smouldering over rising prices and economic hardship, the military face a difficult balancing act in restoring stability while allaying deep suspicions about its readiness to relinquish power.

Using their new-found freedom of expression and protest, workers on Monday rallied in Cairo and other cities to complain about low pay and poor working conditions.

Protests, sit-ins and strikes have occurred at state-owned institutions across Egypt, including the stock exchange, textile and steel firms, media groups, the postal services and railways.

Pro-democracy leaders also say Egyptians will demonstrate again if their demands for radical change are not met. They plan a big "Victory March" on Friday to celebrate the revolution.

Tuesday will be a national holiday to mark the Prophet Mohammad's birthday.

The ruling Higher Military Council urged workers on Monday to return to work. In "Communique No. 5" read out on state television, a military spokesman said: "Noble Egyptians see that these strikes, at this delicate time, lead to negative results."

The military rulers have promised free and fair elections, suspended the constitution and dissolved parliament.

On Monday they appointed retired judge Tareq al-Bishry, respected in legal circles for his independent views, to head a committee set up to propose constitutional changes.

But the military has given no timetable for elections beyond saying it would be in charge "for a temporary period of six months or until the end of elections to the upper and lower houses of parliament, and presidential elections".

Existing registered parties are mostly small, weak and fragmented. The Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, which under the now suspended constitution could not form a party, may be the best organised group but its true popularity has yet to be tested.

Other parties need at least a year for an election, said one politician who struggled to found a party under Mubarak.

"If parliamentary elections happen now, the only party ready to go into elections are the Muslim Brotherhood," said Abou Elela Mady, who broke away from the Brotherhood in the 1990s.

PROTESTS IN BAHRAIN, YEMEN

As the "Revolution on the Nile" sent shock waves around the Middle East, troubling global financial markets worried about oil supplies, there were clashes on Monday in both Bahrain and Yemen, neighbours of the world's biggest oil exporter Saudi Arabia.

In Tehran, too, police fired teargas at demonstrators.

Some Iranian demonstrators demanded Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei suffer the same fate as the ousted Egyptian and Tunisian presidents: "Mubarak, Ben Ali, now it's your turn, Sayyed Ali!" they chanted, according to videos seen on YouTube.

Algeria said on Monday a 19-year-old state of emergency there would be lifted in days, brushing off concerns that recent protests could escalate as in Tunisia and Egypt.

Egypt's army said it would lift the country's own hated state of emergency, implemented after the 1981 assassination of Mubarak's predecessor Anwar Sadat. It has yet to say when this will happen, troubling pro-democracy campaigners.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Monday it was up to Egypt to decide when to lift the state of emergency.

In an interview with Al Jazeera she noted that Washington had long called for the law's removal, but said, "It's not for me to counsel them. This is an Egyptian process that must be directed and defined by the Egyptian people."