Last Updated: Fri Nov 25, 2011 07:40 am (KSA) 04:40 am (GMT)

Former Egyptian prime minister agrees to form new cabinet amid plans for mass rally

An Egyptian protester chants slogans as protesters gather near concrete barricades around the Interior Ministry, near Tahrir Square in Cairo. (Reuters)
An Egyptian protester chants slogans as protesters gather near concrete barricades around the Interior Ministry, near Tahrir Square in Cairo. (Reuters)

Egyptian former prime minister Kamal Ganzouri accepted a request from the ruling generals to form a new government on Thursday, state newspaper al-Ahram said on its website, as protesters planned a new mass rally on Friday.

Ganzouri confirmed he had agreed in principle to lead a national salvation government after meeting with the head of the ruling army council, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, al-Ahram cited sources close to Ganzouli as saying.

Ganzouri headed a cabinet from 1996 to 1999 that introduced some economic liberalization measures. Many Egyptians viewed him as an official who was not tainted by corruption, but his record serving under former president Hosni Mubarak could stir opposition from those demanding a clean break with the past, according to Reuters.

Former prime minister Kamal al-Ganzouri will form the new government. (File photo)
Former prime minister Kamal al-Ganzouri will form the new government. (File photo)

State television had said the military council had met Ganzouri earlier in the day. Army General Mokhtar al-Mullah told a news conference that the army hoped to form a new government before a parliamentary election begins on Monday.

Egyptian protesters and police observed a truce on Thursday after violence that has killed 39 people in five days, but said they would intensify pressure for an end to army rule with a mass rally on Friday in Tahrir Square backed by trade unions.

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s biggest Islamic group, won’t participate in mass rallies planned on Friday, the state television reported.

Just south of Cairo’s Tahrir Square, down a pockmarked and rock-strewn street, a military crane builds a concrete wall to staunch the flood of deaths on the frontline of a renewed battle for democracy.

Bloodiest challenge to the military rulers

More than 35 people were killed on Mohammed Mahmoud street over five days in clashes marking the bloodiest challenge to the country’s military rulers since they took charge after an uprising ousted Hosni Mubarak in February.

The riot police guns, which sent thousands of rubber and birdshot bullets down the street, fell silent on Thursday as did the wailing of sirens from ambulances that careered up the street to evacuate the dead and wounded, according to AFP.

The police, who set off the clashes on Saturday when they dispersed a sit-in by protesters wounded during the uprising that ousted Mubarak, have withdrawn to the nearby interior ministry headquarters.

Thursday’s ceasefire has given the weary protesters in the square, the epicenter of the revolt that ousted Mubarak, time to bring in fresh medical supplies and to ponder the course of their revolt.

Some of the wounded wander around the square, determined to see the protest to its end.

“I don’t know if this is my country anymore,” said Ehab Mohammed, 16, whose arm was broken by riot police. “I just want to have a happy life. I want to feel like a human.”

The clashes started a day after tens of thousands poured into the square to demand a clear timetable for the transfer of power to a civilian government.

The protesters had initially demanded a handover by April or May, but they now want the military to step down immediately, they say, or their comrades would have died in vain.

“I wanted them to leave power by the end of April, but a massacre took place in the past few days over there,” said one protester, Ahmed al-Qinawy, pointing down Mohammed Mahmoud street.

“Now there is one demand, that cannot be negotiated: the military has to go,” said the law student.

Others have set up their own roadblocks to prevent protesters from renewing the clashes, but they have trouble mollifying their furious comrades.

“What right do they have to call a ceasefire? Who’s going to get the rights of the martyrs?” yelled one woman in a niqab, a face veil worn by some devout Muslim women.

“No one was intending for this outcome,” said the woman, who gave her “revolutionary” name as Um Muaz. “But people were outraged after they dispersed the sit-in, and god willing millions will come out tomorrow.”

Urging power transfer

Tens of thousands of protesters filled up the square on Tuesday to demand the military transfer power to a civilian council, scorning a promise by military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Mubarak's former defense minister, to step down by July.

But, unlike the January revolt in which millions of Egyptians protested for 18-days to overthrow Mubarak, many are choosing to sit out the current protests.

“I’m very confused. Everyone is confused. If the military just steps down, there will be chaos. I mean, there is chaos now, so imagine what would happen if the military steps down,” said Essam al-Arabi, whose shop sells leather handbags near the square.

The military has warned of the economic fallout from the protests, a very real threat in a country which has lost billions since the January uprising.

“We need stability,” said Mohammed Abdel Salam, who works in a travel agency close to the downtown square. “We don’t need chaos. But at the same time I want my rights. I'm torn between these two things.”

Most of the influential political parties, which have been preparing for Monday's parliamentary elections, have also distanced themselves from the protests.

But analysts say that, just like the January revolt, the relatively small number of protesters in the iconic square may decide the country’s future.

“It’s very difficult to say that Tahrir is representative of the entire country,” said Issandr ElAmrani, an analyst and blogger.

“There are a lot of people in Tahrir, but obviously a lot more people are not,” he said. “The military faces the same problem Mubarak did. They can’t crush Tahrir, for domestic reasons and for international reasons. And the result would be a bloodbath.”

In fresh blows to confidence, the Egyptian pound weakened to more than 6 to the dollar for the first time since January 2005, and Standard & Poor’s cut Egypt’s credit rating.

The agency cut Egypt’s long-term, foreign- and local-currency sovereign credit ratings to B+ from BB-, saying a “weak political and economic profile” had worsened further, according to Reuters.

The Central Bank raised interest rates unexpectedly in what bankers was an attempt to shore up the pound.

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