Egypt’s entire interim government tendered its resignation Monday, the bloodiest day of a three-day explosion of violence believed to have killed 30 protesters and wounded more than 1,200.
It was unclear late Monday night whether the ruling military council had accepted the resignations, and whether the move would be enough to pacify protesters calling for stronger curbs on the military’s power.
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Al Jazeera reported the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) had approved the move, but Reuters reported the military panel would not accept the ministers’ departure before finding a replacement prime minister.
The motive behind Monday’s resignations was likewise unclear – cabinet members may have been trying to appease protesters angry with the slow pace of democratic change, or they may have intended to send their own message of protest to the army.
Tens of thousands of people took to Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square on Monday, many of them calling for a “millionman march” the following day. The rally was the latest link in a four-day effort that began Friday to protest the army’s continued grip on most aspects of Egyptian life.
Egyptians are set to elect a new parliament in a staggered vote that starts November 28, but presidential powers remain with the army until a presidential poll, which may not happen until late 2012 or early 2013. Protesters want a much swifter transition.
Khaled Diab – an Egyptian- Belgian freelance journalist living in east Jerusalem – said Egyptians have clearly signaled they want SCAF to stop interfering in the democratic process.
“It’s sad the generals haven’t gotten the message that Egyptians have had enough of them, and they should step aside and let democracy have its way,” he told The Jerusalem Post
. “The SCAF didn’t have to manage this [post-Mubarak] transition – it could have been managed either by technocrats or some kind of coalition of revolutionary forces.”
Diab said it’s crucial election results be upheld, even if the outcome is unpalatable to many in Egypt and abroad.
“Democracy is an indivisible principle – if you support democracy you shouldn’t just support democracy that suits you,” he said. “Even if the results of the election are totally not to my liking, I have to support the outcome if it’s reached democratically and reflects the will of the people.”
Analysts say Islamists could win 40 percent of parliamentary seats, with a big portion going to the Muslim Brotherhood, the most organized Islamist group. Islamists were by far the dominant group at Friday’s mass rally, which drew 50,000 people to Tahrir Square.
Subsequent demonstrations appeared to encompass a more diverse cross-section of Egyptian society, including the relatively liberal youth groups that sparked the revolt against Mubarak.
“Of course the emergence of conservative forces in Egypt worries any progressive like myself, but there were also polls that indicated they wouldn’t take an overwhelming majority,” he said.
“They might be like Ennahda in Tunisia – the biggest bloc in parliament – but that doesn’t mean they’ll undermine democracy. It just means they’ll give parliament, or at least the first parliament, a conservative tinge.”
Diab said if given enough time to organize, secular forces could have a moderating effect on religious conservatives.
“The secular forces could play a role in containing the most conservative forces in the Muslim Brotherhood. They could seize the opportunity to regroup and organize better in preparation for elections that will come in the future,” he said. “It’s not a foregone conclusion that a Muslim Brotherhood victory is a disaster for secularists.”
Liberal groups are dismayed by the military trials of thousands of civilians and the army’s failure to scrap a hated emergency law. Islamists eyeing a strong showing in the next parliament suspect the army wants to curtail their influence.
The army has insisted the violence will not delay the election, due in just over a week. The military has denied it wants to stay in charge and maintains it can ensure security during the vote.
Monday’s violence began shortly after dawn. Police attacked a makeshift hospital but were driven back by protesters, who smashed pavements and hurled the chunks of concrete at them, witnesses said.
State media said 22 people had died and hundreds had been wounded in clashes since Saturday, but Cairo’s main morgue said it had received 33 bodies since the demonstrations began. A Health Ministry source said at least 1,250 people had been hurt in the violence since Saturday.
Internet clips posted Monday, which could not be independently checked, showed police beating protesters with sticks, pulling them by the hair and, in one case, dumping what appeared to be a corpse on piles of trash.
“There is clearly no going back as you can see this violence cannot be swept under the table,” said protester Essam Gouda.
“We aim to control the entry points to the square so that security doesn’t block protesters from entering.”
Demonstrators brandished spent shotgun cartridges and bullet casings, although police denied using live rounds during the street battles for control of Tahrir and surrounding streets.
Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Mubarak’s defense minister for two decades and current leader of the army council, has become a target of protests.
“I don’t want Tantawi... I am staying tonight,” Ayman Ramadan, a data entry employee, said early on Monday morning.
Outside the burning apartment building, protesters chanted: “Tantawi burnt it and here are the revolutionaries!” The April 6 youth movement told Egypt’s state news agency it would stay in Tahrir and continue sit-ins in other cities until its demands were met, including a call for a presidential vote no later than April.
Other demands include replacing the current cabinet with a “national salvation government” and an immediate investigation into the clashes in Tahrir and trial of those implicated in it.
Presidential candidate Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, an ultra-conservative Salafi Islamist, told protesters: “We are demanding as the minimum that power be handed over within six months.”
Presidential hopefuls Mohamed ElBaradei and Abdallah al-Ashaal denounced violence against protesters and called for a national salvation government, the state news agency MENA reported. Amr Moussa, whom polls show as the leading presidential hopeful, also condemned the continued bloodshed.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, urged Egypt’s interim authority to halt the violence.
“I urge calm and restraint and condemn the use of violence in the strongest terms,” she said.
Compounding its political instability are Egypt’s growing economic woes.
“Egypt’s economy has entered a death spiral. Foreign investment has withered on the vine, as skittish investors steer clear of Egypt’s tanking financial sector,” Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council, wrote Monday on CNN.com.
“[I]n the case of Egypt, the ‘Arab Spring’ hasn’t netted prosperity at all... Cairo’s current drift could easily end up confirming the most pessimistic predictions surrounding Egypt’s transformation – that, having ousted the Mubarak regime, the country’s revolutionaries are destined to wind up with something far worse.”Reuters contributed to this report.