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Protesters return to Tahrir Square in defiance of army

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2011-02-14

Egypt’s military government warned against strikes and protests Monday, promising activists that constitutional amendments would be ready within days. But protesters were back out on the streets, calling for better pay and an end to emergency rule.

Egyptian military officials called on unions and protesters to stop strikes and demonstrations Monday, issuing a warning that they would do everything in their power to prevent “chaos and disorder”. The message failed to deter pro-democracy activists however, who poured into Tahrir Square once again, three days after the departure of former president Hosni Mubarak.

Just hours before, troops and military police had managed to clear the square of protesters for the first time since they set up camp some two weeks ago. On Sunday, the military dissolved parliament, suspended the constitution, and pledged to pave the way for free and fair elections.
Egypt's ruling Higher Military Council told activists Monday that it hopes to finalise drafting constitutional amendments within ten days and then present them for approval in a popular referendum in two months.

The army has offered to remain in charge of the country “for a temporary period of six months or until the end of elections to the upper and lower houses of parliament, and presidential elections”.

For now, however,  the cabinet  that was assembled by Mubarak last month will continue to send legislation to military leaders who will then decide on what to do with it.

Mubarak's defence minister, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, is the chairman of the supreme military council and is now the de facto head of state and will represent Egypt in its diplomatic dealings. The military government has also said it would respect its international obligations, including Eqypt's peace treaty with Israel.

Protesters plan to maintain pressure

Meanwhile, Egyptian workers have been positioning themselves to push for better deals with the authorities. Though thousands of protesters left Tahrir Square on Sunday following the announcement of a provisional government, many returned Monday. Elsewhere in the country, workers protested at various state-owned institutions, including the stock exchange, textile and steel companies, and the postal and railway service.

The new shape of Egypt's power game

Empowered by their role in driving Mubarak from his 30-year rule, the workers nonetheless face pressure from military authorities for a to return to normal. The army said it would ban labour union meetings on Monday, effectively forbidding strikes.

FRANCE 24’s Melissa Bell in Cairo said that protesters think the military government’s action so far – namely, the dissolution of parliament and the suspension of the constitution – is “a step in the right direction, but [doesn't] go far enough”.

They are specifically awaiting action on demands for political prisoners to be liberated and for the state of emergency to be lifted. The army has said that it would comply with the latter demand, but did not say when.

To keep up pressure on the transition government, Bell said, protesters are planning to gather at Tahrir Square every Friday. “A government clampdown will not go down well with protesters who are quite clear that they don’t want to have their revolution taken away from them,” Bell noted.

Date created : 2011-02-14


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