Egypt cabinet meets as Cairo bustle returns

AFP, Sunday 13 Feb 2011

Egyptian cabinet meets after the ousting of Mubarak

Egypt's caretaker government was to meet Sunday for the first time since strongman Hosni Mubarak handed power to the military, as protesters took down tents and life here inched towards normality.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which assumed power on when Mubarak stepped down on Friday following a massive country-wide revolt, has said his cabinet will remain in place until the election of a new civilian government.

Mubarak had appointed the cabinet -- made up mostly of senior military men -- during the early days of the revolt in a failed bid to placate protesters.
Sunday's meeting comes a day after the resignation of the highly unpopular information minister Anas al-Fiki, who was accused of waging a media campaign against protesters, accusing them of advancing "foreign agendas."

Fiki, sacked prime minister Ahmed Nazif and widely despised former interior minister Habib al-Adly have all been banned from leaving the country, the state news agency reported on Saturday.

Much of the protesters' fury was directed at Adly and the police force he oversaw as interior minister, which has been accused of widespread torture and extortion and was used to crack down brutally on political dissent.

But the new military leadership has urged citizens to cooperate with police -- who were largely driven from the streets on January 28 -- and called on police to respect their slogan: "The police serve the people."

Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, who chairs the military council, met Sunday with Interior Minister Mahmud Wagdy in order to get the police back on the streets as quickly as possible, state television reported.

In Tahrir Square, military police directed cars through what had been the epicenter of the uprising, past tanks that were pulled to the side of most roads and giant pictures of "martyrs" killed in clashes with pro-Mubarak thugs.

Hundreds of thousands of people who had occupied the emblematic square had returned home by Sunday after a massive volunteer clean-up effort that saw people from all walks of life sweeping the streets and collecting rubbish.

"All my dreams have come true," said Nur Khersha, a 24-year-old student who slept in the square Saturday night.

"Mubarak left. We will complete our cleaning, polish the stones, and then we will leave the square as clean as it was," he said.

On Saturday, Egypt's new military leadership vowed to pave the way for democracy and abide by its peace treaty with Israel, soothing fears in the United States and Israel, which welcomed the move.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces also said the current government would remain in place for a peaceful transition to "an elected civil authority to build a free democratic state," although it set no timetable.

US President Barack Obama "welcomed the historic change that has been made by the Egyptian people, and reaffirmed his admiration for their efforts," the White House said Saturday.

"He also welcomed the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ announcement today that it is committed to a democratic civilian transition, and will stand by Egypt’s international obligations."

The massive rallies turned to city-wide celebration on Friday as Mubarak resigned after ruling the Arab world's most populous country for 30 years.

The army was widely praised for allowing the massive demonstrations to unfold peacefully, but the protesters have demanded civilian government and said they will return to the streets in the absence of a swift transition.

Regional ally Saudi Arabia, a close ally of Hosni Mubarak, meanwhile broke its silence and welcomed the "peaceful transition of power" after having previously accused the protesters of undermining the country's stability.

And in the Suez Canal city of Ismailiya, hundreds of members of the widely hated police force marched in solidarity with the uprising Saturday, insisting they had been ordered against their will to shoot at protesters.

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