Egypt's military rulers are expected on Tuesday to step up efforts to restore stability, hoping a promise of a swift transition to democracy will prevent a new flare-up in the protests which forced out Hosni Mubarak, as the U.S. received requests from Egypt's new government to freeze the assets of officials who worked for Mubarak.
Facing a wave of strikes, the military rulers held talks on Monday with young activists who were at the forefront of the uprising which forced Mubarak to step down on Friday.
Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said the economy had been "severely affected by the political crisis that has shaken the country" and called for international aid after phoning his U.S., British and Saudi counterparts.
Gheit's remarks came as EU finance ministers were to meet to discuss requests from Cairo to freeze the assets of members of Mubarak's regime following widespread allegations of corruption during his 30-year reign.
The head of Egypt's ruling military council issued a decree on Tuesday ordering a constitutional amendment committee to finish its work within 10 days, the state news agency reported.
Mohamed Hussein Tantawi also confirmed retired judge Tareq al-Bishry as head of the committee tasked with proposing constitutional amendments.
The Egyptian military has formed a commission to amend Egypt's constitution, a member of the panel said Tuesday, after the body met the head of the ruling junta for the first time.
"The armed forces want to hand over power as soon as possible. They want amendments to the constitution," said Sobhi Saleh, a lawyer and former lawmaker from the Islamist opposition group the Muslim Brotherhood.
Saleh, a member of the eight member panel of judges and constitutional law experts, said it will revise the constitution, which the armed forces suspended on Sunday when they also dissolved parliament.
"We met with the field marshal and the chief of staff," he said. "We are revising the constitution to remove all restrictions and obstacles and to meet the aspirations of the revolution's and the people's demands."
Freezing assets in Europe
The ruling Higher Military Council urged workers on Monday to return to work. In "Communique No. 5" read out on state television, a military spokesman said: "Noble Egyptians see that these strikes, at this delicate time, lead to negative results."
Military leaders stopped short however of issuing a decree banning strikes, as it had been rumored to be preparing to do.
Wael Ghonim, a Google executive who had been detained for his part in the uprising, said members of the military council had told him a plebiscite would be held on constitutional amendments in two months.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague also said Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik had let him know that he would reshuffle his cabinet in the coming week to bring in opposition figures.
The United States, meanwhile, has received requests from Egypt's new government to freeze the assets of officials who worked for former president Mubarak, a senior U.S. official said Monday.
The State Department official, who requested anonymity, told reporters that Washington had not been requested, however, to freeze the assets of Mubarak himself.
"We have received requests regarding other officials," the U.S. official said, noting the request came from the new rulers in Cairo.
Britain, Germany and France said Egypt had asked them to freeze the assets of former regime officials, as EU finance ministers discussed the issue in a meeting in Brussels.
Protests, strikes and sit-ins
But with anger still smoldering over rising prices and economic hardship, the military face a difficult balancing act in restoring stability while allaying deep suspicions about its readiness to relinquish power.
Using their new-found freedom of expression and protest, workers on Monday rallied in Cairo and other cities to complain about low pay and poor working conditions.
Protests, sit-ins and strikes have occurred at state-owned institutions across Egypt, including the stock exchange, textile and steel firms, media groups, the postal services and railways.
"It's difficult to say exactly how many people are striking and where. Who isn't striking?" Kamal Abbas of the Center for Trade Union and Workers' Services said.
Many of the strikes were aimed at removing corrupt union leaders tied to Mubarak, he said.
At one such protest, public transport workers demanded better working conditions, accusing officials of corruption.
"They send us out with vehicles with bad brakes... There is no maintenance," said one demonstrator.
At another protest, hospital workers formed a human chain to stop traffic on the highway south out of the capital, causing a major traffic jam and infuriating motorists.
The strikes prompted the stock exchange to once again postpone reopening until next week.
Pro-democracy leaders also say Egyptians will demonstrate again if their demands for radical change are not met. They plan a big "Victory March" on Friday to celebrate the revolution.
Tuesday is a national holiday to mark the Prophet Mohammad's birthday.
The military rulers have promised free and fair elections, suspended the constitution and dissolved parliament.
On Monday they appointed retired judge Tareq al-Bishry, respected in legal circles for his independent views, to head a committee set up to propose constitutional changes.
But the military has given no timetable for elections beyond saying it would be in charge "for a temporary period of six months or until the end of elections to the upper and lower houses of parliament, and presidential elections".
Brotherhood to form party
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood said on Tuesday it will form a political party in the wake of the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak's regime, which banned but broadly tolerated the Islamist opposition group.
"The Muslim Brotherhood believes in the freedom to form parties and is therefore determined to have its own political party," Mohammed Mursi, a member of the group's political bureau, said in a statement.
"All that prevented the group from achieving this demand was the law on parties, which essentially prevented the establishment of any parties without the agreement of (Mubarak's) National Democratic Party," he added.
The country's most powerful organised opposition group ran candidates as independents under the slogan "Islam is the solution" in 2005 parliamentary elections, winning around 20 percent of seats in the legislative body.
But it boycotted the second round of legislative elections last year after failing to win a single seat in the first round amid widespread allegations of violence and vote-rigging on behalf of the ruling party.
The Brotherhood belatedly joined the massive nationwide protests that led to the fall of Mubarak but has said it will not compete in presidential elections to replace him and has called for democratic reforms.
The group has been the subject of concern in the West and among some of its secular rivals, who fear it may come to power through free elections only to then implement Islamic law in the most populous Arab country.
The Brotherhood has adamantly rejected such a scenario, insisting it supports the broader demands of the pro-democracy protesters who brought Mubarak down and are seeking a more open multi-party system.
The group has been officially banned since the 1950s but it counts hundreds of thousands of members and operates a vast network of social and religious outreach programmes across Egypt.
The military commanders who assumed power when Mubarak resigned last Friday have vowed to rewrite the constitution and hold democratic elections within six months in order to return power to a civilian government.
The Brotherhood is an Islamist group founded in the 1920s with deep roots in Egypt's conservative Muslim society. Washington has expressed concern about its "anti-American rhetoric", saying "we have serious disagreements".
Others need at least a year to prepare for an election, said one politician who struggled to found a party under Mubarak.
"If parliamentary elections happen now, the only party ready to go into elections are the Muslim Brotherhood," said Abou Elela Mady, who broke away from the Brotherhood in the 1990s.
Egypt's army said it would lift the country's own hated state of emergency, implemented after the 1981 assassination of Mubarak's predecessor Anwar Sadat. It has yet to say when this will happen, troubling pro-democracy campaigners.