Egypt Military Faces Resistance In Restoring Order

Egyptian protesters react as they are released after their arrest by army when they resisted their removal from Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Feb. 13, 2011.  (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
Egyptian protesters react as they are released after their arrest by army when they resisted their removal from Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Feb. 13, 2011. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Egypt's military moved Sunday to restore order in Cairo after weeks of mass demonstrations, but troops faced some resistance as they tried to dismantle the protest camp at the heart of the movement that toppled President Hosni Mubarak.

Soldiers and military police took down the makeshift tents of protesters who had camped out in Tahrir, or Liberation, Square, but scuffles broke out with some young men who refused to leave. Many local residents also shouted at the protesters that it was time to go.

The tension reflected the fragility of the situation as protesters press for a voice in guiding their country's move to democracy two days after Mubarak surrendered power to the military.

Egypt's new military rulers promised Saturday to abide by the peace treaty with Israel and eventually hand power to an elected government, but many protesters worried long-sought reforms would be stalled if they give up.

The crowd on Tahrir Square was down from a peak of a quarter-million at the height of the demonstrations to a few thousand on Sunday. Most of those remaining have been pushed to sidewalks and the streets were open to traffic for the first time in more than two weeks.

A coalition of youth and opposition groups that was the driving force of the movement pulled its supporters from the streets, calling instead for weekly mass demonstrations every Friday to keep pressure on.

"It's time we show that we trust the army," said Nasser Abdel-Hamid, who is with the coalition.

The coalition is highly influential in the square, but its members do not claim to be leaders and often say they can't defy the will of the "revolution." Many in the square vowed to stay put until all their demands were met. Military police wearing red berets lined up to cordon off one group, prompting skirmishes.

Ramy Mohammed, who has been camped on the square since the protests began on Jan. 25, said some troops beat the protesters with sticks as they tried to clear the square.

"We were chanting peacefully," the 28-year-old said. "They wanted to remove the tents but we still need guarantees. The army's latest statement was vague and didn't tell us exactly what they are going to do."

Protester Ashraf Ahmed said the military can tear down his tent but he's not going to leave "because so much still needs to be done. They haven't implemented anything yet."

"I came here because I wanted freedom. Freedom is not complete," he said.

The angry mood was in sharp contrast from the day before, when thousands began cleaning up the sprawling plaza with broom brigades sweeping up rubble and garbage.

With Mubarak gone, Egypt's future will likely be shaped by three powers: the military, the protesters, and the sprawling autocratic infrastructure of Mubarak's regime that remains in place, dominating the bureaucracy, the police, state media and parts of the economy. Right now, the protesters' intentions are the clearest of the bunch.

The coalition behind the protests issued their first cohesive list of demands for handling the transition to democracy. Their focus was on ensuring they - not just the military or members of Mubarak's regime - have a seat at the table in deliberations shaping the future.

Among their demands: lifting of emergency law; creation of a presidential council, made up of a military representative and two "trusted personalities"; the dissolving of the ruling party-dominated parliament; and the forming of a broad-based unity government and a committee to either amend or rewrite completely the constitution.

The Armed Forces Supreme Council is now the official ruler after Mubarak handed it power on Friday. It consists of the commanders of each military branch, the chief of staff and Defense Minister Hussein Tantawy. It has not explicitly canceled the constitution drawn up by Mubarak's regime, but the constitution seems to have effectively been put in a cupboard for the time being until it is decided what to do with it.

The military seized power after pleas from protesters, and it has repeatedly promised to ensure democratic change, making it highly popular with the movement.

But on the face of it, the elderly generals are no reformers, and their move to push out Mubarak may have been more to ensure the survival of a ruling system the military has been intertwined with since a 1952 army coup. The deeply secretive military has substantial economic interests, running industries and businesses that it will likely seek to preserve.

The council of generals has said nothing so far about how the transition will be carried out or addressed the protesters' demands.

This program aired on February 13, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.


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