Egypt’s Military Dissolves Parliament and Calls for Vote
CAIRO — The Egyptian military consolidated its control on Sunday over what it has called a democratic transition from nearly three decades of President Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian rule, dissolving the feeble Parliament, suspending the Constitution and calling for elections in six months in sweeping steps that echoed protesters’ demands.
The statement by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, read on television, effectively put Egypt under direct military authority, thrusting the country into territory uncharted since republican Egypt was founded in 1952. Though enjoying popular support, the military must now cope with the formidable task of negotiating a post-revolutionary landscape still basking in the glow of Mr. Mubarak’s fall, but beset by demands to ease Egyptians’ many hardships.
Since seizing power from Mr. Mubarak on Friday, the military has struck a reassuring note, responding in words and actions to the platform articulated by hundreds of thousands in Tahrir Square. But beyond more protests, there is almost no check on the sweep of military rule. Its statement said it would form a committee to draft constitutional amendments — pointedly keeping it in its hands, not the opposition’s — though it promised to put them before a referendum.
Even as calm seemed to be settling over Egypt, antigovernment demonstrations erupted in Yemen, with protesters clashing violently with security forces on Sunday. A small group tried to rush the palace of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, but was beaten back by riot police officers.
In Algeria, opposition groups meeting on Sunday vowed to hold weekly protests against the government in the capital, Algiers, said the head of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights, Mustapha Bouchachi. Around 300 people were arrested Saturday at a demonstration in the heart of the city that was stifled by a heavy police presence, the League and other opposition groups said.
While opposition leaders in Egypt welcomed the Egyptian military’s moves, some have quietly raised worries about the future role of an institution that has been a pillar of the status quo, playing a crucial behind-the-scenes role in preserving its vast business interests and political capital.
“Over the next six months, I am afraid the army will brainwash the people to think that the military is the best option,” said Dina Aboul Seoud, a 35-year-old protester, still in the square on Sunday. “Now, I am afraid of what is going to happen next.”
The day in Egypt brought scenes that juxtaposed a more familiar capital with a country forever changed by Mr. Mubarak’s fall. Hundreds of policemen, belonging to one of the most loathed institutions in Egypt, rallied in Cairo to demand better pay and treatment. Traffic returned to Tahrir Square, a symbol of the revolution, navigating through lingering protesters and festive sightseers, many of whom lingered by the pictures of dead protesters that hung from clotheslines at one end of the square.
Youthful volunteers swept streets, painted fences and curbs, washed away graffiti that read, “Down with Mubarak,” and planted bushes in a square many want to turn into a memorial for one of the most stunning uprisings in Arab history. Soldiers drove a truck mounted with speakers that blared, “Egypt is my beloved.”
“Egypt is my blood,” said Oummia Ali, a flight attendant who skipped work to paint the square’s railing green. “I want to build our country again.”
As she spoke, a boisterous crowd marched down the street away from Tahrir Square, “Liberation” in Arabic and named for the fall of the Egyptian monarchy in 1952. “Let’s go home,” they chanted, “we got our rights.” Though hundreds, perhaps more, vowed to stay until more reforms were enacted, tents were dismantled, banners taken down and trucks piled with blankets that kept protesters warm over the 18 days of demonstrations that began Jan. 25, the date organizers have given to their revolution.
The military’s statement was the clearest elaboration yet of its plans for Egypt, as the country’s opposition forces, from the Muslim Brotherhood to labor unions, seek to build on the momentum of the protests and create a democratic system with few parallels in the Arab world.
The moves to suspend the Constitution and to dissolve Parliament, chosen in an election deemed a sham even by Mr. Mubarak’s standards, were expected. The statement declared that the supreme command would issue laws in the transitional period before elections and that Egypt’s defense minister, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, would represent the country, in a sign that the 75-year-old loyalist of Mr. Mubarak’s had emerged to the forefront. Protesters — and some classified American diplomatic cables — have dismissed him as a “poodle” of Mr. Mubarak’s. But some senior American officers say he is a shrewd operator who played a significant role in managing Mr. Mubarak’s nonviolent ouster.
The military’s communiqué was welcomed by opposition leaders as offering a specific timetable for transition to civil rule. Ayman Nour, a longtime opponent of Mr. Mubarak’s, called it a victory for the revolution, while youthful leaders, some of whom met in downtown Cairo on Sunday night to chart a path forward in negotiations with the military, described it as a concrete step.
“The statement is fine,” said Ahmed Maher, a leading organizers. “We still need more details, but it was more comforting than what we heard before.” Another organizer, Ahmed Zidan, said it met “90 percent of the demands” of the demonstrators.
But still unanswered are other demands of the protesters, among them the release of thousands of political prisoners. The military’s position on the emergency law, which gave Mr. Mubarak’s government wide powers to arrest and detain people, has remained ambiguous. The military said earlier that it would abolish it once conditions improved, but has yet to address it since. Essam al-Arian, a prominent Brotherhood leader, echoed those demands, saying their fulfillment “would bring calm to the society.”
“To be able to trust the army completely and do what it says completely is impossible because the country has had corrupted institutions for 30 years working in every sector,” said Tamer el-Sady, one of the young organizers at Sunday’s meeting. “I cannot just assume that the army is clean and can do something.”
The military has said the government of Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, appointed Jan. 29, will remain in place as a caretaker cabinet in the transition, though it reserved the right to dismiss some of the ministers. The cabinet met Sunday for the first time since Mr. Mubarak’s fall, notably with his once-ubiquitous portrait nowhere to be seen.
“Our concern now in the cabinet is security, to bring security back to the Egyptian citizen,” he told a news conference after the meeting.
Other than Mr. Tantawi and Sami Anan, the army chief of staff, the military’s council remains opaque, with many in Egypt unable to identity anyone else on it. Omar Suleiman, the former vice president, has not appeared since Friday, and Mr. Shafiq said that the military would determine his role.
With the police yet to return to the streets in force, the military has been deployed across the city, seeking to manage protests that sprung up across Cairo on Sunday. At banks, insurance companies and even the Academy of Scientific Research, scores gathered to demand better pay, in a sign of the difficulties that the military will face in meeting the expectations that have exponentially risen with the success of the uprising.
“We can’t miss this opportunity,” said Mukhtar Guindi, an employee at the academy, gathered with others at the entrance. “This is the time to demand our rights.”
“One, two, where did our money go?” chanted others.
The most remarkable protest was by the police themselves, who gathered in black uniforms, leather jackets and plain clothes, blaming the hated former interior minister, Habib el-Adly, for their reputation and seeking forgiveness for orders they said they were forced to obey.
The protest was reminiscent of a similar demonstration in Tunis, the day after the fall of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, poignantly illustrating the degree to which people’s fear of authority had collapsed. (It said something, too, about the authorities’ fear of the people that the new interior minister eventually came down to the street to meet them.)
“They forced us to steal from the people,” Ayman Ali, a policeman for 11 years, shouted over the chants. “The hidden message was what? Don’t worry about your salaries or getting a raise. You can get the rest of what you need by taking from the people.”
There were no police officers to be seen Sunday in Tahrir Square, where soldiers in red berets feebly directed traffic. Scuffles broke out as the military removed barricades and moved protesters away from the square’s main arteries.
Some insisted they would stay until emergency law was lifted or even until civilian rule was restored. But many were simply the curious, and they echoed the sentiments across a city snarled once again in traffic: that a new phase of negotiations, fraught with danger, would follow Friday’s revolution.“Even God needed seven days to create the world,” said Mustafa Ibrahim, a 60-year-old driver working near Tahrir Square. “Not everything is going to happen in a day.”