Egypt Elects New Prime Minister Amid Protests in Cairo

Kamal Ganzouri, who once served as prime minister under President Hosni Mubarak, regained the post Friday as competing protests drew tens of thousands of demonstrators in the capital.

Gazouri

“We are here to serve our nation,” said Ganzouri, who also served as Mubarak’s defense minister for 20 years. (CNN) Ganzouri told reporters that Hussein Tantawi, field marshal of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and Egypt’s dominant force since Mubarak’s ouster in February, “made it clear to me he is no longer willing to stay in power. If he told me otherwise, I’d not have accepted to take this role.” (CNN) Ganzouri said he had asked for time to form a Cabinet “that will be accepted by everyone.” (CNN) Ganzouri took the job after Egypt’s military rulers asked him to form a government of “national salvation.” (CNN)

In a televised statement, he said the military has given him greater powers than his predecessor and he wouldn’t have accepted the job if he believed military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi had any intention of staying in power. “The powers given to me exceed any similar mandates,” he said, looking uncomfortable, grasping for words and repeatedly pausing as he spoke. “I will take full authority so I’m able to serve my country.” (CBC) He also said he won’t be able to form a government before parliamentary elections start on Monday.

The development came days after Prime Minister Essam Sharaf and his government quit en masse and days before parliamentary elections, scheduled to begin Monday. The high military council decided Friday to extend voting to two days for each stage of the election, which will take several months, according to state-run Egypt TV.

“Of course, the new government cannot be formed before Monday’s parliamentary elections,” Ganzouri said. (CNN)

Ganzouri, who was Egypt’s prime minister from 1996 to 1999, is to remain prime minister until at least January 10, when results of the parliamentary elections are finalized, said Aly Hassan, a judicial consultant. After that, Parliament would have to back Ganzouri for him to retain the position.

Russia Responds

Russian’s special representative for Africa, Mikhail Margelov, had said any new prime minister would likely play a technical role, one that will require he not only run the government but also “ensure the relevant political climate ahead of the elections,” the Russian news service Interfax said.

Criticisms

The Alliance of the Revolutionaries of Egypt had proposed Mohamed ElBaradei, a 2005 Nobel Peace Prize winner and a frontrunner for the presidency of Egypt, to take over as prime minister, said coalition member Musad Ibrahim. He criticized the choice of Ganzouri, saying that he is 81 years old and asserting that “all his projects (in government) were failures… The security council wants someone they can control, and Ganzouri is their man,” Ibrahim said. (CNN)

Ganzouri takes the helm at a time of tremendous change, which he acknowledged in his news conference, saying that his new responsibilities “are a lot more than I ever had ever before.” (CNN)

Washington Responds

In Washington, the White House issued a statement saying that the new government “must be empowered with real authority immediately” and that the country’s transition to democracy “must continue, with elections proceeding expeditiously, and all necessary measures taken to ensure security and prevent intimidation.” (CNN) The White House said power in Egypt should be transferred to civilians “as soon as possible… The United States strongly believes that the new Egyptian government must be empowered with real authority immediately,” the statement said. (BBC)

Protests

Ganzouri’s appointment was not well received by some demonstrators, hundreds of whom blocked the entrance to the Cabinet headquarters in protest, according to Dr. Karim El Kholy, a dentist who had flown from Michigan to join the protests. In Alexandria, thousands of protesters clashed with security forces around the security directorate, according to Huda El Sadi, an activist. “Protesters and a lot of thugs are currently throwing Molotov cocktails and rocks at the security forces, who are responding with tear gas and firing rubber and birdshot,” he said. “Dozens have been injured.” (CNN)

Fourteen people were hurt in the protests, said Dr. Hisham Shiha, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health.

Demonstrations in Egypt could test whether the nation besieged by recent violent protests can remain peaceful after days of clashes. By Friday, the death toll from the clashes during the prior six days stood at 41, including 33 in Cairo. An additional 3,250 have been wounded, Shiha said. He told CNN that many of the casualties had been shot by “live ammunition, rubber bullets and birdshot.” (CNN)

Friday’s protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square have been dubbed “last chance.” (CNN) Tens of thousands of people massed there Friday. Among them was ElBaradei, according to his Facebook page. The alliance of protesters in the square “rejects the appointment of Ganzouri,” a Nile TV reporter said. “They want a new name, a true national salvation government that doesn’t include any old guard from the despot regime, and that the new cabinet has ministers who can represent them, their ages, their ambitions.” (CNN) Demonstrators in the square have called for the interim military rulers to step down. The square was the epicenter of the movement that led to Mubarak’s ouster as president nine months ago.

“Illegitimate, illegitimate!” the crowds in the downtown square chanted on hearing the news. (CBC)

Swelling crowds chanted, “leave, leave” and “the people want to bring down the field marshal”, in reference to Tantawi, who took over the reins of power from Mubarak. (CBC)

“Not only was he prime minister under Mubarak, but also part of the old regime for a total of 18 years,” said protester Mohammed el-Fayoumi, 29. “Why did we have a revolution then?” (CBC)

“For the second time, we are going to depend upon the old guard of Mubarak’s regime. Why do we not give chance for the young, instead of those people who are 80 years old?” one man in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Suhir Nadim, told Reuters news agency. “Appointing Ganzouri is a crisis for the revolution. We must remain in Tahrir,” another protester, a 44-year-old Hossam Amer, told Reuters.

“El-Ganzouri is a new Sharaf. He’s old regime,” said Nayer Mustafa, 62. “The revolution was hijacked once. We won’t let it happen again.” (CBC)

The BBC’s Lyse Doucet in Tahrir Square says the carnival atmosphere returned to the demonstrations after a truce was agreed to end the violence seen earlier in the week. People are letting off fireworks and shouting “Down with the military regime,” she says. (BBC)

Victory to Jerusalem

Also Friday, the Muslim Brotherhood was holding a “Victory to Jerusalem” demonstration, and a pro-military march started Friday afternoon in the upscale neighborhood of Abbasiya Square. There, supporters of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces gathered in numbers smaller than those in Tahrir Square. Some held a banner that said, “To the defenders of the nation, we say Thank you.” State-run Nile TV showed the crowd chanting, “The people and the military are ONE hand!” “Whoever loves Egypt doesn’t destroy Egypt!” and “Enough! Enough! Let the people live!” (CNN) “Down with Tahrir” and “Yes to the military council,” they chanted. (BBC)

Military Responds

Egypt’s military leaders apologized Thursday for the deaths of protesters, vowing to prosecute offenders and pay the medical bills of the wounded. “The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces presents its regrets and deep apologies for the deaths of martyrs among Egypt’s loyal sons during the recent events in Tahrir Square,” said the message, which was posted on the council’s Facebook page. “The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces confirms that it is making every sincere effort to prevent such events from happening again.” (CNN)

Noujaim Released

Meanwhile, Jehane Noujaim, an Egyptian-American documentary film producer who was arrested Wednesday, has been released, her lawyer, Ragia Omram, said Friday. Three American college students detained this week for allegedly throwing Molotov cocktails have been ordered released, but it was not clear when that order would be carried out.

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