Egyptian volunteers cleaned up garbage and rocks from a street yesterday near Tahrir Square, the heart of the protest. The uprising’s leading organizers asked protesters to leave the square. (Ben Curtis/Associated Press)
By Kareem FahimNew York Times / February 13, 2011
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CAIRO — As a new era dawned in Egypt yesterday, the army leadership sought to reassure Egyptians and the world that it would shepherd a transition to civilian rule and honor international commitments like the peace treaty with Israel.
Exultant and exhausted opposition leaders claimed their role in the country’s future, pressing the army to lift the country’s emergency law and release political prisoners and saying they would present their vision for the government. And they vowed to return to Tahrir Square to honor those who had died in the 18-day uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak after nearly 30 years of authoritarian rule.
In an announcement broadcast on state television, an army spokesman said Egypt would continue to abide by all of its international and regional treaties and the current civilian leadership would manage the country’s affairs until the formation of a new government. But he did not discuss a timetable for any transfer of power, and it was unclear how and when talks with opposition figures would take place.
Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, welcomed the statement, saying the treaty “has greatly contributed to both countries and is the cornerstone for peace and stability in the entire Middle East.’’
Israel has been deeply concerned that Egypt’s turmoil could threaten the peace accord, the first between an Arab nation and Israel. But Egypt’s military strongly supports the peace deal, not in small part because it guarantees US aid for the armed forces, currently running at $1.3 billion a year. While anti-Israeli feeling is strong in Egypt, few so far seriously call for the treaty’s abrogation.
The Egyptian army spokesman said the military was “aspiring to guarantee the peaceful transition of power within the framework of a free democratic system that allows an elected civilian power to rule the country, in order to build a free democratic state.’’ The impact of Egypt’s uprising rippled across the Arab world, as protesters turned out in Algeria, where the police arrested leading organizers, and in Yemen, where progovernment forces clubbed demonstrators.
The Palestinian leadership responded by announcing that it planned to hold presidential and parliamentary elections by September. And in Tunisia, which inspired Egypt’s uprising, hundreds demonstrated to cheer Mubarak’s ouster.
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will travel to Jordan and Israel for talks as both countries deal with the reverberations from Egypt’s revolution.
In Tahrir, or Liberation, Square, some members of the movement that toppled Mubarak vowed to continue their protests, saying that all their demands had not yet been met.
A long list included an end to the emergency law that allows detention without charges, the dissolution of the Parliament, seen as illegitimate, and for some of the protesters, the prosecution of Mubarak.
About 50 protesters stood in the square yesterday morning as the military removed barricades and concertina wire on the periphery. But the uprising’s leading organizers, speaking at a news conference in central Cairo, asked protesters to leave the square.
The group, the Coalition of the Youth of the Revolution, which includes members of the April 6 Youth Movement, the Muslim Brotherhood Youth and young supporters of Mohamed ElBaradei, a prominent opposition figure, said it had not yet talked with the military and that today it would lay out its road map for a transitional government.
The coalition said Ahmed Zewail, a Nobel laureate in chemistry, and other respected figures would work as intermediaries between the youth group and the military.
“The power of the people changed the regime,’’ said Gehan Shaaban, a group spokeswoman. “But we shouldn’t trust the army. We should trust ourselves, the people of Egypt.’’
Again, there were signs that not all the protesters were willing to give up. During the news conference, a protester yelled: “We should all head to Tahrir and stay there, until we ourselves are sure that everything is going as planned! The government of Ahmed Shafiq has to go!’’ Shafiq is the prime minister. The woman’s shouts brought the news conference to a close.
As the protesters and opposition groups prepared an agenda, they sought clues about exactly whom they were negotiating with. On Friday, Vice President Omar Suleiman said Mubarak had authorized the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to manage the state’s affairs, marking the transition from civilian to military rule.
Suleiman, a former general who became Egypt’s foreign intelligence chief, straddled the two worlds. But Hosam Sowilam, a retired general, said Suleiman no longer played a leadership role. “Omar Suleiman finished his time,’’ he said. “He’s 74 years old.’’ Others were not so quick to dismiss Suleiman, a close ally of Mubarak who was mentioned as his successor.
In interviews, protest leaders said they assumed that the defense minister, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, 75, who was considered a loyalist of Mubarak, was now the country’s de facto leader. Yesterday morning, his convoy tried to drive to Tahrir Square, according to a paratrooper stationed there. But he did not leave his car.
Security officials said the recently appointed interior minister, Mahmoud Wagdy, visited units of the department’s feared security services yesterday in the hope of returning police officers to work. The officers vanished from Egypt’s streets on Jan. 29.
That security force, including plainclothes officers widely accused of abuse, are loathed by the protesters, who have demanded police reform to end brutality and, in particular, torture in police stations.
Prosecutors are weighing charges against the previous interior minister, Habib al-Adly, who seemed to ignore or encourage police abuses.
On state television, which for weeks depicted the protesters as a violent mob of foreigners, an anchor spoke of the “youth revolution.’’
In Tahrir Square, thousand of volunteers who brought their own brooms or cleaning supplies, swept streets and scrubbed graffiti from buildings. On the streets around the square, the celebrations from the night before continued.
Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.
© Copyright 2011 Globe Newspaper Company.