Egypt’s interim government offers to step down as protests rage


CAIRO — As deadly clashes intensified Monday between
thousands of protesters and riot police, Egypt’s interim government
offered to resign in an attempt to calm three consecutive days of unrest
that have shaken the country ahead of next week’s parliamentary

It was unclear if the ruling Supreme
Council of the Armed Forces would accept the Cabinet’s offer to step
aside, which would severely undermine the military’s legitimacy. It was
unlikely that resignations would have appeased protesters whose main
target of derision has been the ruling generals and their refusal to
hand power over to a new democracy.

The interim
government led by Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, who has offered to step
down before, was installed in March and quickly fell out of favor with
activists and political groups. The resignation offers came as battles
between protesters and security forces intensified around the Interior
Ministry in Cairo. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at mobs
surging toward the long reviled symbol of state oppression.

streets leading from Tahrir Square toward the ministry were streaked
with flags and banners as protesters rushed forward only to be beaten
back by batons. The violence, which so far has killed at least 24 people
and injured more than 1,400, has further unnerved a nation whose
democratic ambitions after the fall of Hosni Mubarak in February have
been stalled.

The country is edging closer to a
perilous crossroads. Protesters across Egypt are demanding that the
military immediately hand over power to a civilian government. The
military, which has called an emergency meeting of all political parties
on Tuesday, is warning that a new revolt will not be tolerated. After
months of suspicions between politicians, generals and activists, there
is little common ground on which to negotiate an end to the crisis.

scene in the square for much of Monday was reminiscent of last winter’s
uprising, but it was more sullen, lacking the infectious enthusiasm
that swept through the crowds during the final days of Mubarak’s regime.
In a sense, the military, revered by protesters in February as the
protector of the revolution, had become the betrayer of Egypt’s “Arab
Spring” by refusing to cede power to a civilian government.

rose from the square at news of the cabinet’s resignation offer. But
sentiments held by many protesters, whose numbers rose from about 4,000
to tens of thousands by nightfall, went beyond their frustration with
the military to what they also see as failures by religious and
political factions. The major secular and Islamist parties have not
officially endorsed the protests for fear the clashes would be a
dangerous diversion to the elections that begin on Nov. 28.

military has yet to “come up with a response to the current problems,”
said Hend Abdel Hafiz, a medical student at Cairo University. “But
politicians keep talking on TV shows about a civil state versus a
religious state. They’ve totally abandoned the people’s main needs.

three days now we’ve been here objecting to police brutality and
demanding our rights,” Hafiz said, “but none of the political parties
has come to support us. They’ve lost any credit I ever had for them.”

military attempted to convince protesters to depart the square over
fears the nation’s economy, tourism industry and stock market would
continue to tumble. The newspaper Al-Masry al-Youm reported that 63
flights had been canceled at the Cairo International Airport since

Gen. Sayed Abbas, a representative of
the ruling council, accused the demonstrators of provoking violence,
saying they “have a right to protest, but we must stand between them and
the Interior Ministry.”

He added that “unknown
people” fired live ammunition at protesters from atop buildings in an
attempt to ignite rancor between the military and the people.

International said police forces “appeared to fire buckshot and rubber
bullets into the crowds. Bodies in the Cairo morgue reportedly showed
head and chest wounds from live ammunition, including shotgun wounds.”

Monday, Tahrir Square was a battered landscape of ash piles and tossed
emotions. Protesters wearing surgical masks, face cream and cotton
jammed in their noses stormed down side streets toward the Interior
Ministry. After encountering waves of tear gas, they hurled rocks and
retreated, gasping and tumbling into the square’s central garden. Others
carried the injured to a makeshift hospital in a mosque.

“Write on the wall of a prison cell,” protesters chanted. “Military rule is a shame.”

“Military rule is defunct, defunct,” others yelled. “Freedom, freedom.”

chants mixed with gunfire and clanging of flimsy metal barricades
echoed over the square and toward the Nile, where Mubarak’s charred
ruling party headquarters loomed like a ghost, a reminder that the
vestiges of the old regime, including the grip of the military, are not
easily scoured away. The military will essentially control the new
parliament at least until a new president is elected late next year or
early 2013.

Thirty-seven political and activist
groups, including the April 6th Youth Movement, issued a statement
comparing the military to Mubarak’s police state: “We confirm our
readiness to face all the forces that aim to abort the revolution,
reproduce the old regime, or drag the country into chaos and turn the
revolution into a military coup.”

Khaled Seddick,
owner of a clothes shop, stood in the square waving an anti-military
placard as doctors, with water bottles and pockets full of respiratory
medication tended to those overcome by tear gas.

need a revolutionary government that would take over the country
because no parliament will change anything under the military’s absolute


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