Egypt: protesters vow not to leave Tahrir Square until new government formed

Up to 20,000 people remain in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, with thousands more in surrounding streets, despite ongoing efforts by security forces to remove them in a third consecutive day of protests Nov. 21. “The people want the fall of the marshal,” demonstrators chanted, referring to Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi—Mubarak’s defense minister for two decades and now head of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Egypt’s military-appointed interim prime minister Essam Sharaf and his cabinet offered to resign in a bid to defuse the protests, but the SCAF has not indicated it will accept the resignations. Over 20 have now been killed and more than 1,500 wounded in the three days of street fighting. Doctors at a field clinic near Tahrir Square reported seeing as many as 10 bodies killed by live ammunition, an escalation from the tear gas and rubber bullets the security forces have previously used. Leaders across the spectrum—secularists and Islamists alike—have endorsed a call for a “million man march” on the 22nd to demand a new civilian government.

The demand for the military-appointed cabinet to step down came in a statement signed by 37 opposition groups, also calling for a timeline for transferring power from the SCAF to an elected civilian government no later than May 2012. The groups, including the April 6 Youth Movement, the January 25 Revolutionary Youth Coalition, and Salafi groups, condemned the ongoing use of excessive force against protesters in Tahrir Square. “We confirm our readiness to face all the forces that aim to abort the revolution, reproduce the old regime, or drag the country into chaos and turn the revolution into a military coup,” said the statement.

Shady al-Ghazaly Harb, a representative of the Revolutionary Youth Coalition, said that the protest will continue until a new government is formed. “We need a national salvation cabinet that understands revolutionary demands, has dignity and wide authority to reinstate security and improve the economy,” he said. (AlMasry AlYoum, AlMasry AlYoum, The Guardian, LAT, NYT, Nov. 21)

Amnesty International says Egypt’s military rulers have “completely failed” to fulfill their promises to protect human rights. In a report released Nov. 22, Amnesty accuses the SCAF of adopting oppressive tactics used by the ousted Mubarak regime, including banning critical media coverage and torturing protesters. The group called on the military council to follow through on its pledge to repeal the Mubarak-era “emergency laws.” (AP, Nov. 22)

Sinai moves towards insurgency?
One Egyptian police officer was killed and one injured during a raid on an armed Islamist group suspected of involvement in pipeline bombings that have disrupted gas supplies to Israel and Jordan, the state news agency MENA reported Nov. 21. The officer was shot dead when his unit approached the hiding place of two members of the underground al-Takfir Wa al-Hijra (Excommunication and Exodus), security sources said. One Egyptian of Palestinian origin was arrested. The pipeline in the Sinai Peninsula has been attacked seven times this year. Egypt’s 20-year gas deal with Israel, signed under the Mubarak regime, is unpopular with many Egyptians—and especially with local Bedouin who say the poor region has seen few benefits. The repeated attacks have caused weeks-long closures of the pipeline run by Egypt’s gas transport company Gasco, a subsidiary of the national gas company EGAS. (Reuters, Nov. 22)

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  1. Sinai pipeline hit yet again
    The North Sinai gas pipeline that transports gas to Israel and Jordan was attacked for the 10th time this year, the Egyptian Natural Gas Co. said Dec. 18. Unidentified attackers planted two explosive devices beneath the pipeline near the city of El Arish even as it was being repaired following a similar attack last month, the Oil Ministry said in a faxed statement. There were no casualties reported. (Bloomberg, Dec. 18)