Protests against military rule cloud Egypt election

On eve of first free elections in decades, demonstrators gather in Cairo's Tahrir Square against army choice for prime minister; ElBaradei says he is willing to lead new government.

By REUTERS
November 27, 2011 13:35
3 minute read.
Protesters during a march in Tahrir Square, Cair

Protesters during a march in Tahrir Square in Cairo 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah)

 
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CAIRO - Protesters gathered again in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Sunday to try to evict the generals who replaced Hosni Mubarak, in a trial of strength that has muddied the run-up to Egypt's first vote since a popular revolt deposed the former leader.

The parliamentary election that begins on Monday is the first step on the ruling military council's timetable towards a transfer to civilian rule, now promised for July.

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But the demonstrators want the council to step aside now in favor of a civilian interim administration and reject its choice of 78-year-old Kamal Ganzouri to form the next cabinet.

Other Egyptians yearn for stability after a week of bloodshed that has killed 42 people and wounded over 2,000, preferring for now to let the generals run a nation whose political turmoil has thrust the economy deeper into crisis.

Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the council, said the army would ensure security at the polling booths and reiterated that the vote would go ahead on schedule.

"We are at a crossroads. There are only two routes, the success of elections leading Egypt towards safety or facing dangerous hurdles that we in the armed forces, as part of the Egyptian people, will not allow," he said in comments carried by the website of state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper.

Protests in Cairo

The generals have received tacit support from Islamists anxious that nothing disrupt two days of voting in the first of three rounds of an election in which they expect to do well.

Basam Sharaf, among protesters outside parliament, said the objection to Ganzouri was not his age, but the policies he pursued as prime minister under Mubarak from 1996 to 1999.

"Two-thirds of the ministers that Ganzouri appointed in his day are now in Tora prison," he said, referring to Mubarak-era officials accused of corruption and other offenses who were put on trial after an uprising swept Mubarak from power in February.

Alarmed by Egypt's latest bout of unrest, the United States and the European Union have condemned the "excessive force" used by the authorities and urged a swift handover to civilian rule.

Egyptian presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei (Reuters)Some protesters favor Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the UN nuclear watchdog, who has offered to drop his campaign for the presidency and to lead a government of national unity.

"We are trying to create a government that represents the revolution and the people's demands," said protester Hiba Hani. "We have no faith in Ganzouri or anyone brought in with him."

ElBaradei is respected among pro-democracy campaigners and has a high international profile, but many Egyptians view him as out of touch because he spent much of his career abroad.

There was no sign that the generals would change course, although the latest unrest has already forced them accelerate plans to hand over to civilian rule.

Islamist parties banned under Mubarak have been campaigning hard to secure a strong foothold in mainstream politics.

Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie said what was important was the composition and powers of Ganzouri's cabinet, Egypt's fourth this year.

"We have suffered from three cabinets that had no powers and the end-result was failure that has been suffered by the Egyptian people," he said late on Saturday.

Badie suggested conspiratorial hands were at work in the unrest. "There are powers from inside and outside Egypt that don't want stability for Egypt or development, and this is something that is being pushed and paid for," he declared.

The vote due to start on Monday is billed as Egypt's first free and fair election in decades, but a confusing array of candidates and parties and fears of bullying, bribery and violence at polling stations offer voters a daunting challenge.

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