As protests against Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak drag on, he has been meeting with his new cabinet to look for ways to end the crisis that has ground much of the country to a halt and claimed at least 300 lives.
AFP - Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak huddled with his new government for the first time on Saturday, looking for ways to defuse a popular uprising which, on its 12th day, showed no signs of abating.
In pictures: Major players in Egypt’s crisis
The country’s new vice-president previously served as general intelligence director for almost two decades. Emerging from the political shadows only recently, Suleiman is now charged with talking to the opposition. (Photo credit: Screen grab from Al Oula TV).
Pro-American Lieutenant General Sami Anan (right) is chief of staff of the armed forces – some 350,000 soldiers and 470,000 reserves. He reportedly has enormous influence over the outcome of the crisis – depending on who he orders the army to side with. (Credit: AFP).
As Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Badie has been at the head of Egypt’s most organised opposition movement for one year. He, along with his party, are demanding that Mubarak form a government of national unity. (Credit: FRANCE 24).
Opposition leader and 2005 Nobel Peace Prize winner, ElBaradei returned to Egypt on January 28 to join the protests. Outside of Egypt he is a strong favourite to be the next president, but inside the country he is little-known. (Credit: FRANCE 24).
Ghad Party leader and founder, Nour came second (albeit far behind Mubarak), in the presidential election of 2005. A political dissident and prominent human rights lawyer, he has endured several stints behind bars. (Credit: FRANCE 24).
Former foreign affairs minister, Moussa enjoys widespread popularity in Egypt for his hearty criticism of neighbouring Israel. Currently Secretary General of the Arab League, he has not ruled out running for the presidency. (Credit: FRANCE 24).
The youngest son of Hosni Mubarak serves as the deputy secretary-general of the president’s ruling National Democratic Party. He’s considered by many as the most likely successor to his father, but the opposition is determined to stop that from happening.
The turmoil in Cairo loomed large over a meeting in Munich, Germany of the Middle East diplomatic Quartet, where US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the region was confronting "a perfect storm of powerful trends".
At the same time, Clinton praised the "restraint" shown by the Egyptian security forces during a mass demonstration on Friday, billed as the "day of departure" for Mubarak by the protesters.
It is believed that at least 300 people have been killed, and thousands injured, since the protests began on January 25, the United Nations has said.
With big crowds swelling anew in Tahrir Square, epicentre of a stubborn campaign to get Mubarak to stand down immediately, the longtime president met for the first time with the government he had sworn in five days earlier.
Present were his new prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, the ministers of petroleum, trade, finance and social solidarity, and the head of the central bank, the state MENA news agency reported.
In northern Sinai, a pipeline sending Egyptian gas to Jordan was attacked, officials said, prompting gas supplies to Israel to be halted as well. But it was unclear if the attack had any link to the anti-Mubarak movement.
Gunfire was heard in Tahrir Square in the early hours of Saturday as several thousands protesters spent a chilly night alongside Egyptian army tanks, regarded as protection from riot police or pro-Mubarak mobs.
Witnesses said the gunfire were warning shots fired by soldiers on the nearby October bridge over the River Nile to stop a clash between pro- and anti-Mubarak groups.
The sound of some of the tanks in front of the Egyptian Museum starting up their engines later in the morning prompted dozens to immediately sit down around them to prevent them from moving.
"The army and the people are two-into-one," crowds chanted, as soldiers bearing AK-47 assault rifles stood in a row a few metres (yards) away, blocking the way to the landmark museum.
"We are sitting here to stop the army from removing our barricade" composed of charred police cars, said protester Mohammed Gamal, 24, who held a blue plastic tube as protection against thugs.
Mubarak, 82, whose three decades as leader of the Arab world's most populous nation went unchallenged until now, has said he is "fed up" with his job, but prefers to stay in power until September while calm is restored.
But protesters -- inspired by the downfall of Tunisia's longtime president last month -- wants Mubarak out immediately, while the European Union and the United States are stepping up pressure for a transition to begin.
Citing unnamed US and Egyptian officials, the New York Times reported Saturday that new vice president Omar Suleiman and senior Egyptian military leaders are exploring ways for Mubarak to make a graceful exit.
Rather than go immediately, the sources said, Mubarak's powers would be scaled back, enabling the creation of a transitional government headed by Suleiman, the former intelligence chief.
That government would in turn negotiate, with opposition figures, amendments to Egypt’s constitution and other democratic changes.
In Munich for the Quartet meeting, the US secretary of state said the Middle East "is being battered by a perfect storm of powerful trends," including rampant unemployment among its young people.
"This generation is rightly demanding that their governments become more effective, more responsive, and more open," Clinton told leaders and senior officials from Europe, Russia and Afghanistan.
"The status quo is simply not sustainable," she added. "Across the region, there must be clear and real progress toward open, transparent, fair, and accountable systems."
The Quartet -- comprising Russia, the United States, the European Union and United Nations -- is meeting this weekend to explore ways of reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
But their meeting in the German city was haunted by concern that regime change in Egypt -- the only Arab nation besides Jordan to have signed a peace treaty with Israel -- might undermine that quest.
Date created : 2011-02-05