Egypt’s Cabinet Offers Resignation Following Violent Clashes

The cabinet offered its resignation on Monday to Egypt’s transitional military rulers as security forces carried out an increasingly lethal crackdown on three days of violent street protests, reviving the uncertainty about Egypt’s future that marked the earliest days of the Arab Spring.

Security forces fired tear gas and clashed Monday with several thousand protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square in the third straight day of violence that has killed at least 24 people and has turned into the most sustained challenge yet to the rule of Egypt's military. Photo: Mosa'ab Elshamy/Flickr

Fresh violence broke out in and around Cairo’s Tahrir Square early Tuesday, hours after Egypt’s Cabinet submitted its resignation to the nation’s military-led government.

Tuesday’s violence marks the fourth straight day of clashes between security forces and protesters, days ahead of a November 28 parliamentary election.

The eruption of violence, which began Saturday, reflects the frustration and confusion that has mired Egypt’s revolution since Mubarak fell and the military stepped in to take power.

It comes only a week before Egypt is to begin the first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections, which many have hoped would be a significant landmark in a transition to democracy.

After Mubarak was ousted, military leaders took control with the promise that eventually a civilian government would be elected and take over.

The vote has been overshadowed by mounting anger at the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which will continue to hold power even after the vote.

Among police, 102 officers and conscripts have been injured, with wounds ranging from gunshots to burns from Molotov cocktails, an Interior Ministry spokesman said. One officer has a critical bullet wound to his head.

Roughly 1,700 citizens have been wounded, according to the same Health Ministry spokesman. That includes at least 207 on Monday.

“The government of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf has handed its resignation to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces,” said Mohammed Hegazy, the cabinet spokesman.

Expressing “deep regret over the painful events”, it however offered to continue working until the resignation was accepted.

Analysts said the resignation offer could have been an attempt by the cabinet to save its own reputation, or could have been contrived by the SCAF to appease protesters and buy time while it considers its next move.

Justice Minister Mohamed Abdelaziz al-Juindy explained that this move to quit the government was driven by opposition to security forces’ crackdown on demonstrators.

“I resigned because of the events in Tahrir (Square), because of the political responsibility,” explained al-Juindy.

The military leadership accepted the mass resignation soon after the prime minister’s office said it was offered, said Lt. Col. Amr Imam, a spokesman for the ruling Supreme Council for the Armed Forces.

Scores of Egyptian diplomats condemned the violence and urged the ruling military to hold elections scheduled for Nov 28 on time.

“We, a group of Egyptian diplomats who joined the honourable January revolution with our hearts, our minds and our bodies, are now witnessing an assault on the dignity of the people,” said a statement signed by 140 diplomats. The United States led a chorus of international condemnation of the military’s conduct.

The military council has said on its Facebook page it is “extremely sorry for what the events have led to.” And spokesman Maj. Mohamed Askar noted late Monday that the Supreme Council has ordered a fact-finding mission to assess what has happened.

Moreover, the Supreme Council also is calling upon “all political forces to hold dialogue as soon as possible in order to address the escalation” of unrest, Askar said.

The military says it will hand over power only after presidential elections, which it has vaguely said will be held in late 2012 or early 2013. The protesters are demanding an immediate move to civilian rule.

“What does it mean, transfer power in 2013? It means simply that he wants to hold on to his seat,” said a young protester, Mohammed Sayyed, referring to the head of the Supreme Council, Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi.

Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, said elections should be “free and fair” not be delayed.

“We’re deeply concerned about the violence,” he said. “We call on restraint of all sides.”

A key demand of protesters who first gathered in significant numbers in Tahrir Square on Friday was that presidential elections should be held no later than April 2012.

Some youth groups in the square also demanded an immediate handover from military to civilian rule, the resignation of the cabinet and the formation of a “national salvation” government. [via The Telegraph, CNN and Huff Post]

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