Friday, March 4, 2011

Egypt's Prime Minister Resigns, Protests for Reforms Continue

Los Angeles Times
Egyptian prime minister resigns; demonstrations for reform still planned

March 4, 2011

By Jeffrey Fleishman and Garrett Therolf, Los Angeles Times

Ahmed Shafik, who was appointed prime minister before President Hosni Mubarak's ouster, was criticized for seeming aloof to demands for change. Mass rallies to press for additional reforms are still planned for Friday.

The beleaguered prime minister appointed by ousted President Hosni Mubarak resigned Thursday as Egypt's revolutionary movement prepared for mass demonstrations against him.

The resignation of Ahmed Shafik, a former air force general and one of the most potent holdover symbols of the Mubarak regime, was announced on the ruling military council's website. He had been criticized for his condescending manner toward young protesters, a lack of vision and for recognizing too late the passion for change that drove the revolution.

Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who became a prominent protest figure, celebrated Shafik's resignation. "Power to the people!" he said on Twitter.

Protesters said large gatherings were still planned for Friday to press their demands for political and economic change in Egypt, but one of the largest groups, the Coalition for the Jan. 25 Revolution Youth, said protests would turn celebratory. The country's new leadership will be allowed time to release political prisoners and bring charges against members of Mubarak's administration, protesters said.

"We still demand a specific time frame to achieve the rest of the revolution's basic demands," the coalition said in a statement.

Protesters said other key demands include rescinding the country's emergency law, which gives the government the ability to arrest people without charge.

Shafik was replaced by Essam Sharaf, a former transportation minister who criticized Mubarak's administration after leaving in 2006 amid a series of deadly train accidents blamed on government negligence. He has visited protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square and became one of their most popular candidates to replace Shafik.

The new prime minister is viewed as one of the few officials with significant government experience but untainted by ties to the ousted regime. The military said he would be asked to form a new caretaker Cabinet as the country makes the transition to civilian control.

The outgoing prime minister often seemed aloof to the passion for change that led to Mubarak's resignation Feb. 11 and the arrests of top officials, including Interior Minister Habib Adli and Housing Minister Ahmed Maghrabi, on corruption and other charges.

Political analyst Nabil Abdel Fattah said Shafik's close relationship with Mubarak gave rise to concern that he would make only superficial changes and negotiate the continuation of the former regime's policies and practices.

"Shafik's presence represented a clear threat to the Jan. 25 revolution," Fattah said.

The resignation is an indication that the military is attempting, at least publicly, to weaken the influence of Mubarak's inner circle as it works with opposition figures to form a transitional government. It is also likely to appease many Egyptians who stream weekly into Tahrir Square to protest what they regard as a lack of momentum toward political reform and the lifting of 30 years of emergency law.

"Why should we leave?" said Yassim Abdel Salam, sitting unshaven and wrapped in a scarf near a row of tents in the square. "There is no reason to leave. We've called for six demands and none have been fulfilled. The whole world has been saluting the Egyptian revolution, but the true goals of our rebellion have not been met."

The military met Wednesday with leading political figures, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei and Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League, to discuss a transitional government.

The army is calling for parliamentary and presidential elections within months, but ElBaradei and other opposition leaders want elections delayed for a year to give fledgling political parties a chance to mature.

If not, they say, the elections will be dominated by the most powerful existing organizations: the ruling National Democratic Party and the Muslim Brotherhood. ElBaradei also told top military officials that Shafik's government, handpicked by Mubarak in the days before he resigned, had to be dissolved before meaningful reform could begin.

Shafik had appeared on a talk show Wednesday night with Naguib Sawiris, one of the nation's leading businessmen, and Hamdi Kandil, a longtime pundit and journalist. The discussion turned raucous as Kandil, staring down Shafik, articulated what much of the country felt.

"I'm surprised that you remain as prime minister," Kandil said, "and that you accept it even when you know the majority of Egyptians want to see you go."

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