In Egypt, post-revolution harmony turns into acrimony
Stock prices are sliding, protesters are clamoring, generals are fuming and the once-respected prime minister is maneuvering to hang on to his job.
The revolution that swept Egypt last winter remains messy and unfinished in the swelter of summer. Protesters are again camping in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, hunger strikes are reported across the country and the ruling military council is not moving quickly enough for demonstrators in bringing former President Hosni Mubarak and his regime to justice.
Leading young activists, worried that the revolution is veering away from them, called Tuesday for the resignation of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf and his Cabinet. They want him replaced by one of several candidates, including Mohamed Elbaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former head of the United Nations’ nuclear regulatory agency.
Sharaf does not have the “revolutionary character to fulfill the ambitions of many Egyptians aiming for freedom and social justice,” the Jan. 25 Revolution Youth Coalition said in a statement. “Sharaf has become an obstacle in the revolution’s path.”
The political turmoil came as demonstrations entered their fifth day and protesters again blocked the entrance of the one of the government’s key administrative buildings. The Special Council of the Armed Forces, exasperated by repeated calls for deeper reforms and swifter trials for police officers and former officials, warned protesters against “harming public interests.”
The split among Egyptians over the protests has also turned acrimonious. Many believe the dissidents should pack up their banners and tents and go home. But activists argue that the military council and the interim government respond only to pressure. Thirty men with sticks and knives attacked the protester camp in Tahrir, wounding six people before they were chased off by demonstrators.
Egypt’s uprising in January and February lasted 18 days, unlike the protracted rebellions that have gripped Yemen, Libya, Syria and Bahrain for months. But Egyptians are now contending with the power struggles and intrigue of building a new democracy, holding parliamentary elections in September and writing a constitution in a country controlled by generals.
Military tribunals have been accused of human rights abuses in trying thousands of people charged with security offenses since the revolution. The protesters’ main aims are the interim Cabinet’s dismissal, the purging of Mubarak loyalists from public office and immediate trials for police officers and officials, including Mubarak and former Interior Minister Habib Adli, who are charged with the deaths of hundreds of demonstrators last winter.
Adli and two other former officials were sentenced to prison Tuesday on separate corruption charges. It was Adli’s second conviction and he will serve 12 years. Former Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif was given a one-year suspended sentence, and former Finance Minister Youssef Boutros-Ghali was tried in absentia and given 10 years.
The military and police have not yet intervened in the latest Tahrir rallies, which ranged from 1,000 to about 5,000 people. Two national addresses by Sharaf in recent days have offered vague concessions, including the reshuffling of the Cabinet, but have failed to appease activists. He has accepted the resignation of Deputy Prime Minister Yahya Gamal, a politician often criticized by opposition parties.
The military indicated Tuesday, however, that it may be less tolerant in coming days. It called on “honorable citizens” to “confront” challenges to national stability and said it “fully backed the prime minister.”
Political unrest and recent sectarian violence between Coptic Christians and Muslims have hurt tourism and the overall economy. The country’s benchmark EGX30 stock index dipped for a third day Tuesday, falling by 2.8%. The military has tried to revitalize the economy since the revolution but has been beset by labor strikes and other problems.
Amro Hassan of The Times’ Cairo bureau contributed to this report.
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