After Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) agreed to accept the resignation of the nine-month-old government of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, speculation is rife as to who will head up a proposed government of “national salvation.”
On Tuesday night, SCAF chief Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi announced that until a national salvation government could be drawn up, the Sharaf Cabinet would stay on as caretaker. Tantawi’s announcement followed a five-hour meeting between representatives of major political parties and two presidential candidates – Amr Moussa and Mohamed Al-Awa – and SCAF chief-of-staff Sami Anan.
"An agreement was reached to form a government of national salvation whose mission will be to realise the outstanding goals of Egypt’s January 25 Revolution," said Al-Awa.
Although the “national salvation” government was first proposed by the January 25 Revolutionary Youth Movement, most movement members rejected Tantawi’s speech and the results of the meeting with Anan. Many believe that the Sharaf government served as little more than a puppet in the hands of the SCAF, rendering it incapable of realising key revolutionary demands.
They also point to government foot-dragging in issuing laws barring members of ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s now-defunct National Democratic Party from taking part in upcoming parliamentary polls. They also accuse the Sharaf government of failing to provide public security. Many believe that the SCAF-appointed Sharaf government still includes a handful of NDP remnants actively working against democratic reform.
“If the proposed national salvation government remains subject to control by the SCAF, it will simply be a military government in the guise of a civilian one,” said one revolutionary youth activist.
According to political science professor Gamal Zahran, no politician would be willing to lead a new government if that government remains under the control of the SCAF.
“It would be like a short-term anaesthetic,” said Zahran. “The only solution is to grant the national salvation government full powers to run the country, and this will only be possible when the SCAF cedes power to a civilian presidential council.”
Mohamed ElBaradei, former director of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, has been mentioned as a possible interim head for the proposed salvation government. ElBaradei has previously stated his readiness to lead a new government at this critical juncture, provided that he was granted full executive powers.
“ElBaradei might be the best choice at this moment, since most political forces see him as a man of integrity capable of overseeing Egypt’s democratic transition,” said Zahran.
The Sharaf government was initially appointed in March. Sharaf himself was selected by the Revolutionary Youth Coalition to replace the outgoing government of Ahmed Shafik, who had been uncomfortably close to the ousted president.
At a million-man Tahrir Square demonstration on 3 March, Sharaf was hailed by protesters. “My legitimacy stems from your support,” he told them at the time. “Once I feel that I’ve lost your support, I will come to tell you that I will step down.”
Over the course of the last nine months, however, Sharaf has increasingly come to be seen by his critics as a lackey of the ruling military council. The last straw came when Ali El-Selmi, deputy prime minister for political affairs, proposed a controversial raft of “supra-constitutional principles.”
The so-called “El-Selmi document” stirred controversy among Islamist parties, who held a Tahrir Square demonstration on Friday, 18 November, to register their opposition to it. Although the demonstration was peaceful, it turned violent the next day, when Central Security Forces abruptly cleared the square of straggling protesters with unexpected ferocity.
The incident sparked four days of violent confrontations between security forces and protesters, which have left more than 30 protesters dead until now.
After accepting his government’s resignation on Tuesday, Sharaf defended the outgoing Cabinet, which, he said, “had achieved many goals of the revolution.”
Many observers believe, however, that the Sharaf government will remain in office until parliamentary polls – scheduled to kick off next week – are conducted. “The Sharaf government cannot leave power until at least the first stage of elections is held,” said Local Administration Minister Mohamed Attia.
Although no one knows when the proposed national salvation government will be appointed, many observers express fear that the Sharaf government’s staying in power much longer could – in light of current circumstances – have dire political consequences.