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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Egypt Sees New Era After Exit of Hosni Mubarak - NYTimes.com

Hosni Mubarak 2003Image via WikipediaEgypt Sees New Era After Exit of Hosni Mubarak - NYTimes.com

By KAREEM FAHIM
CAIRO — As a new era dawned in Egypt on Saturday the army leadership sought to reassure Egyptians and the world that it would shepherd a transition to civilian rule and honor international commitments like its 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 said no negotiations with the military had yet begun. They vowed to return to Tahrir Square next week to celebrate a victory and honor those who 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 that Egypt would continue to abide by all its international and regional treaties and that the current civilian leadership would manage the country’s affairs until the formation of a new government.

The army spokesman said the military was “aspiring to guarantee the peaceful transfer 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.” But he did not discuss a timetable for any transfer of power.

A wary opposition stood its ground even as disagreements surfaced over whether to leave Tahrir Square, the center of the revolution. And 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 pro-government forces beat demonstrators with clubs. In Tunisia, which inspired Egypt’s uprising, hundreds demonstrated to cheer Mr. Mubarak’s ouster.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will travel to Jordan and Israel for talks as both countries deal with the fallout from Egypt’s revolution.

In Tahrir Square, or Liberation Square, some members of the broad movement that toppled Mr. 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 Mr. Mubarak. About 50 stood in the square on Saturday morning, as the military removed barricades 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 that it had not yet talked with the military and that on Sunday it would lay out a road map for a transitional government.

The coalition said that Ahmed Zewail, a Nobel laureate in chemistry, and other respected figures would work as intermediaries between the youth group and the country’s new military chiefs.

“The power of the people changed the regime,” said Gehan Shaaban, a 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 woman said: “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!” Mr. Shafiq is the prime minister. The woman’s screams 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 that Mr. Mubarak had authorized the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to manage the state’s affairs, marking the transition from civilian to military rule.

Mr. Suleiman, a former general who became Egypt’s foreign intelligence chief, straddled the two worlds. But Hosam Sowilam, a retired general, said Mr. Suleiman no longer played a leadership role. “Omar Suleiman finished his time,” he said. “He’s 74 years old.”

In interviews, leaders of the protest movement said they assumed that the defense minister, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, 75, who was considered a die-hard Mubarak loyalist, was now the country’s de facto leader. On Saturday morning his convoy tried to drive to Tahrir Square, according to a paratrooper stationed there. But he did not leave his car.

The military chiefs worked quickly to exert their influence, calling on citizens to cooperate with the police, after weeks of civil strife, and urging a force stained by accusations of abuse and torture to be mindful of the department’s slogan: “The police in the service of the people.”

While the commitment to international treaties by the Egyptian military reassured the United States and Israel, there was no indication whether such a pledge would survive a new government. The protesters in the square made it clear that they would reconsider all of Mr. Mubarak’s foreign alliances, and many frequently referred to the deposed president as an Israeli or American agent.

Hamdy Hassan, a former member of Parliament from the Muslim Brotherhood, said the military had “acknowledged the revolution’s legitimacy,” but added that there were still doubts about its intentions. “We want a guarantee that we do not have another tyrant.”

In Cairo, citizens measured their new reality with humor, mild arguments and celebrations. The official state press gave a measure of how much things had changed.

“The People Toppled the Government” said the headline in Al Ahram, the flagship state-owned national newspaper and former government mouthpiece, borrowing a line from the protest movement. Another article noted that Switzerland had frozen the assets of Mr. Mubarak his aides.

On state television, which for weeks depicted the protesters as a violent mob of foreigners, an anchor spoke of the “youth revolution.”

Security officials said Saturday that the information minister, Anas el-Fekky, who many of the protesters say should be fired, was placed under house arrest.

In Tahrir Square, thousands of volunteers who brought their own brooms or cleaning supplies, swept streets and scrubbed graffiti from nearby buildings. On the streets surrounding the square, the celebrations from the night before continued, spurred on by honking drivers.

But on Saturday night, the party started early, as tens of thousands of Cairo residents and visitors from all over Egypt filled the square, dancing to music and snapping pictures of their children standing on vigilant tanks.

The president’s departure, for Sharm el Sheik, seemed for some to have stripped the country’s pressing political problems of some of their urgency. Mr. ElBaradei’s brother, Ali ElBaradei, said Mohamed ElBaradei was taking the day off and had not been contacted by the military. “They will call when they call,” he said.

Amr Hamzawy, who has acted as a mediator between the protesters and the government, said that “everyone is taking a break,” though he expressed concern with the vague nature of the army’s most recent statements.

“What is the timeline we are looking at?” he said. “Is it September?” He also said it was unclear whether the army council ruling the country favored amending the Constitution or starting from scratch, which is the preferred solution for many of the protesters.

There was also no clear sign from the military about whether it intended to dissolve Parliament, Mr. Hamzawy said, adding that so far the military’s tone had been “very, very positive.”

Much of the current confusion was caused by the way Mr. Mubarak, after clinging to power and turning his security services on the protesters, was finally forced out, Mr. Hamzawy said. “He was trying very hard to stay in office, and he played his last card” by delegating authority to Mr. Suleiman. That move came far too late. “It badly failed, and they pushed him out,” he said.

Reporting was contributed by David D. Kirkpatrick, Anthony Shadid, Mona El-Naggar and Dawlat Magdy from Cairo, and Thomas Fuller from Tunis.

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