The head of Egypt’s ruling military council said Tuesday it would hand over
power to an elected president this summer, but defended troops’ heavy-handed
crackdown against protesters rallying against the slow pace of democratic
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“The armed forces, represented by their supreme council, do not
aspire to govern and put the supreme interest of the country above all
considerations,” the head of the council, Field Marshal Muhammad Hussein
Tantawi, said in a rare televised address on Tuesday.
Tantawi said the
Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF, had accepted, a day earlier, the
resignation of Egypt’s entire cabinet and its replacement by an interim
“national salvation government.”
He said the council would be willing to
relinquish power immediately if the people called for it in a national
The aging general insisted the military had shown restraint
in dealing with protesters.
The head of the opposition Salafi party said
a new president would be elected in June ahead of the expected power transfer in
July. Under the previous schedule, the presidential vote would have been delayed
until at least late 2012 or early 2013.
“We never killed a single
Egyptian, man or woman,” he said. “The Egyptian military believes it is part and
parcel of the Egyptian people.”
However, demonstrators in Cairo’s Tahrir
Square derided the offer, chanting, “Leave, leave,” after watching the address.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators filled the square Tuesday on the fifth day of
A violent crackdown by security forces – including the
widespread use of tear gas and intermittent live fire – is believed to have
wounded more than 1,250 since Saturday morning and to have cost the lives of at
least 36 people.
Though voters in Egypt will have to wait at least half a
year to choose a president, parliamentary elections in the country are scheduled
Tuesday’s clashes took an unforeseen turn when three US
exchange students at the American University in Cairo were arrested and paraded
on state television on suspicion of throwing Molotov cocktails.
were shown on state TV standing against a wall with plastic soda bottles
positioned on a table in front of them. University authorities said they were in
contact with the US Embassy to secure the students’ release.
university spokeswoman Morgan Roth, The Washington Post
named the three as
Gregory Porter, Luke Gates and Derrik Sweeney.
The US, which gives
Egypt’s military $1.3 billion a year in aid, called for an end to the
“deplorable” violence and said elections there must go forward.
deeply concerned about the violence. The violence is deplorable. We call on all
sides to exercise restraint,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
State Department also condemned what it called excessive use of force, saying
Washington would hold Egypt’s ruling military council to its
This week’s protests have recalled the 18-day demonstrations
that removed longtime president Hosni Mubarak in February. Then, as now,
protesters remained unsatisfied with what they saw as piecemeal gestures that
did little to change Egypt’s authoritarian governmental structure.
enough, of course,” Shadi el-Ghazali Harb, a leader of the Revolutionary Youth
Coalition, told Reuters after Tantawi’s remarks.
“The military council is
fully responsible for the political failure Egypt is going through now. We
demand a solution that strips the military council of all its powers
immediately,” he said.
“We demand a full purge of the system and the
removal of the military council,” said another protester.
violence has cast doubts over prospects that next week’s voting will be either
orderly or on schedule. But Eric Trager, an Egypt analyst at the Washington
Institute for Near East Policy, said the parliamentary ballot would likely be
largely overshadowed by the continuing bloodshed.
“The protesters at
Tahrir Square seem indifferent to when the elections are held,” he said. “What
they are calling for stands apart from whether the elections are held on time – it’s really about a transfer of power to
Protesters were furious at delays in moving past
army control of the country, as well as proposed constitutional provisions that
would keep the military from civilian oversight.
“There were protests on
Friday in which a few hundred people tried to reoccupy the square and were
violently cleared. Then thousands more people came, it became a rallying cry,
and thousands more came,” said Trager, a University of Pennsylvania PhD
candidate whose research focuses on Egyptian opposition
“Violence brings more people to the square and hardens their
stance. That’s why the military is going to have a very hard time finding a
pathway out of this,” he said.
The concessions Tantawi outlined were
agreed upon in a meeting between the army and a number of political party
The Muslim Brotherhood, which anticipates a strong showing in
the election, was among five parties at the crisis talks, as were three
presidential candidates. Others, including former IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei,
In Egypt’s second city of Alexandria, hundreds of protesters
marched to a military base waving their shoes – a known sign of disrespect in
the Arab world – in disgust at Tantawi’s speech, chanting: “Where is the
transfer of power?”
“Tantawi’s speech is just like Mubarak’s. It’s just to fool
us,” said 27-year-old Youssef Shaaban.
Political uncertainty has gripped
Egypt since Mubarak’s fall, while sectarian clashes, labor unrest, gas pipeline
sabotage and a gaping absence of tourists have paralyzed the economy and
prompted a widespread yearning for stability.
The unrest has knocked
Egypt’s markets. The benchmark share index has fallen 11 percent since Thursday,
hitting its lowest level since March 2009.
The Egyptian pound fell to its
weakest against the dollar since January 2005, and several banks in central
Cairo were closed on Tuesday as a precaution against looting.
Tuesday, rights group Amnesty International issued a stinging report rebuking
the military council for brutality that at times exceeded that of Mubarak’s
The study said the military had made only empty promises to improve
human rights. Military courts had tried thousands of civilians, emergency law
had been extended, and torture had continued in army custody, it said.
Consistent reports spoke of security forces employing armed “thugs” to attack
protesters.Reuters contributed to this report.