Egypt appoints three new ministers to key posts

Incoming foreign minister has expressed reservations about Camp David; Youths storm state security HQ; 8,000 protesters hit Beirut streets.

By OREN KESSLER, REUTERS
March 7, 2011 01:34
protests against Lebanon's political system

Lebanese Protests 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Egypt named new ministers of the interior, foreign affairs and justice on Sunday in a reshuffle that met many demands of reformists seeking a purge of officials chosen by ousted president Hosni Mubarak.

The reshuffle marks the latest reforms enacted by the ruling military council, which has appeared ever more responsive to the demands of groups that rose up against Mubarak in mass protests and swept him from power on February 11.

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Nabil Elaraby, a former International Court of Justice judge, was named minister of foreign affairs, replacing Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the face of Mubarak’s foreign policy since 2004 and the most prominent minister to hang on this long. Elaraby was Egypt’s former permanent representative at the United Nations, and is remembered for expressing reservations about the Camp David peace treaty with Israel that he helped to negotiate, Egyptian political scientist Kamal al- Sayyid said. Elaraby was also a member of Cairo’s delegation to the Egyptian-Israeli arbitration tribunal over the status of Taba from 1986 to 1988.

During his tenure at the international court, Elaraby was a member of the panel that issued the advisory opinion on the construction of the West Bank security barrier.

Israel protested Elaraby’s appointment to the panel, claiming he was not objective and held anti-Israel views, including his call to sue the Jewish state for genocide. In an August 2001 interview with an Egyptian newspaper, two months before his appointment to the panel, Elaraby said, “I personally support an Arab Muslim claim against Israeli crimes.”

Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces last week appointed a prime minister with the backing of youth protest groups to replace Ahmed Shafiq, whom Mubarak appointed to the post in his last weeks in power. The new cabinet will require the approval of the council headed by Field Marshal Muhammad Hussein Tantawi.



Thousands of youths marched to state security buildings in Cairo and across Egypt over the weekend, breaking into 11 and seizing classified documents. Footage of the break-ins was posted on YouTube.

Some security buildings were torched. Witnesses said police were burning secret documents that could incriminate security officials. Police blamed protesters for the fires.

On Sunday around 1,000 protesters gathered in front of the interior ministry, demanding entry to gather more documents.

Some said they were confronted by plain clothes men with knives.

In Beirut, around 8,000 protesters opposed to Lebanon’s sectarian political system chanted, “The people want the overthrow of the system,” echoing the calls heard in Egypt and throughout the Arab world in recent weeks.

The constitution in Lebanon, which has been without a government since Prime Minister Saad Hariri was toppled by Hezbollah and its political allies in January, enshrines a division of power between different religious sects. But critics say the delicate power-sharing has also hindered development, fuelled corruption and entrenched the leaders of Lebanon’s various Christian and Muslim factions.

“Bread, knowledge, freedom.

And no to political sectarianism,” one banner at the protest read.

In Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, security forces have detained at least 22 minority Shi’ites who protested last week against discrimination, activists said on Sunday, as the kingdom tried to keep the wave of Arab unrest outside its borders. Saudi Shi’ites have staged small demonstrations in the Eastern Province, which holds much of the oil wealth of the world’s top crude exporter.

“Twenty-two were arrested on Thursday plus four on Friday, so the total is 26. This was all in Qatif,” said rights activist Ibrahim al-Mugaiteeb, who heads the independent Saudi-based Human Rights First Society.

The province is near Bahrain, also the scene of protests in recent weeks by majority Shi’ites against their Sunni rulers. Plans by that country to create 20,000 jobs in its security apparatus could be a move to open up government jobs to the country’s disgruntled Shi’ites and appease protesters against the Sunniled government.

Bahrain’s Minister of Interior Sheikh Rashed bin Abdullah al-Khalifa told local newspaper editors on Saturday that King Hamad bin Isa had ordered a round of new hires in a number of government institutions, including 20,000 jobs in his ministry.

“We hope this step will have a positive effect on the safety and security of citizens,” the Al-Wasat daily quoted the minister as saying. “The minister said national dialogue was the way to achieving political stability and of raising demands.” The opposition said it interpreted the announcement as an attempt to appease Shi’ite protesters who say government jobs have been shut to them.

“I think it’s mainly meant for Shi’ites, in particular for the coming graduates.

Unequal opportunities is one reason why we’re having people in the street,” Jasim Husain of Wefaq, the main Shi’ite opposition group, said.

In Washington, the United States warned its citizens in Yemen on Sunday to consider departing as protests seeking the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh gather momentum, saying the security risk in the impoverished state was extremely high.

Tens of thousands of protesters have camped out in major Yemeni cities, their tone hardening daily, and protests turned to clashes in the town of Ibb on Sunday when government loyalists attacked demonstrators with sticks and stones. Violence also flared in outlying provinces, where six security men were killed in attacks blamed on al-Qaida.

“The Department [of State] urges US citizens not to travel to Yemen. US citizens currently in Yemen should consider departing,” the US State Department said in a travel warning. “The security threat level in Yemen is extremely high due to terrorist activities and civil unrest,” it added.

Britain has also warned against travel there, advising for people to leave by commercial flights if they do not have any pressing reasons to stay.

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