By Heba Fahmy and Brett Borkan
CAIRO: Protesters across Cairo erupted in anger following statements Tuesday morning by Egypt’s ruling military council, describing its tone as aggressive, confrontational, and reminiscent of the days under ousted president Hosni Mubarak.
A planned march towards the Cabinet building in Downtown Cairo began at 6 pm.
“The speech was stupid, there was really no reason for them to use this kind of language,” prominent blogger and activist Mahmoud Salem told Daily News Egypt.
The speech, delivered by General Mohsen El-Fangary, assistant defense minister and member of the ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), called on “honorable Egyptian citizens to stand against any attempts to hinder the restoration of normal life…and to stand against any rumors.”
A hard core of Tahrir protesters, however, have spoken openly against the closure of the Mugamaa, a sprawling government administrative building in Tahrir. They have attempted repeatedly to convince other protesters who have been blocking the entrance since Sunday to desist, but their efforts were in vain.
Youth activist Salem in a twitter message late afternoon on Tuesday, however, promised to reopen the Mugamaa Wednesday “by hook or by crook.”
“The speech’s tone was very terrorizing; it was provoking people to stand against protests, and it is turning people against each other,” Seif Khirfan, a broadcaster for Channel 25 TV and activist, told DNE.
“It sounded more like a warning than a statement. It seems that it was asking citizens to go and attack the protesters,” youth activist Sarah Abdel Rahman added.
In the speech, El-Fangary warned against actions that “endanger the best interests of the country,” including some protesters who “defy peaceful protests, which harms the people’s best interests [and] obstructs the state’s facilities.”
He added that rumors and false information have led to a rift between the people and the army and raise skepticism towards the procedures and decisions made by the ruling army council.
“I’ve watched this speech now five times, and all I saw was aggression. They’re trying to provoke everybody,” activist Mohamed Anis opined, warning that he believes that “if people against Tahrir were to act as SCAF said in the speech, we’d have a civil war.”
In the speech broadcast on state television, El-Fangary reiterated SCAF’s support for Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, despite some calls for his resignation.
He also confirmed that the council will continue to rule the country until parliamentary elections in September, which will be followed by the drafting of a new constitution, the election of a new president, and the handover of power to a civilian authority chosen by the people.
However, for many, the statement overlooked the actual demands of the protests that have spread across Egypt in the past week.
“The statement didn’t address the military trials against civilians or the minimum wage. We need the Cabinet’s authority defined because until now it seems very limited compared to the SCAF’s authority. It didn’t even offer a timetable for improving the security situation all over the country,” Karima Al-Hifnawy, member of the National Association for Change and Kefaya opposition movement, explained to DNE.
Khirfan agreed, adding that the speech also missed the demands of “holding policemen accountable and giving more privileges to the civilian government, and failed to give any concrete timelines or decisions.”
“Once again, they are trying to calm the people down. They think they are giving confidence to the people, but actually they’re taking it away,” activist Mohamed Safi argued, adding that, for him, the “speech cements the fact that the army is not willing to respond 100 percent to the people’s demands.”
Responding to El-Fangary’s announcement that the SCAF will work with various political powers to agree on a set of unassailable principles that will guide the work of the constituent assembly charged with drafting the new constitution after the parliamentary elections, Salem remained skeptical of its relevance.
“We are now in July and the elections are in September and no rules have been set. They are trying to create a weak parliament and sham elections,” he said.
For her part, Al-Hifnawy doubted the relevance of El-Fangary’s statement that the SCAF would continue its dialogue with all political powers including the youth of the revolution to meet the people’s legitimate demands.
“The SCAF statement doesn’t meet the demands of the Egyptian people, it’s not even on the same level and doesn’t stand up to Tahrir’s sit-in,” she said.
In a statement issued Monday evening, Prime Minister Essam Sharaf vowed to reshuffle the cabinet within a week, and said governors will also be replaced and the interior ministry will announce sweeping changes including the dismissal of officers implicated in the killing of peaceful protesters by July 15.
Sharaf called on the Judicial Supreme Council to hold public trials of former government officials, those accused of corruption and the killing and injuring peaceful protesters.
The statement stipulated that media institutions would be reformed and restructured as soon as possible.
Sharaf also said that he will personally head the board of directors responsible for the support fund for the victims of the revolution. –Additional reporting by Reem Khedr