CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt’s new military rulers, promising to guard against “counter-revolution,” faced political pressure on Friday to purge the cabinet of ministers appointed by Hosni Mubarak as thousands of protesters gathered in Cairo.
On the eve of the rally that will also celebrate two weeks since Mubarak’s removal, the military, which has promised elections within six months, assured Egyptians there would be “no return to the past” of the Mubarak era.
In the gathering at Tahrir Square, which also reminded the military of the people power that ended Mubarak’s 30-year iron rule, activists urged the military to overhaul the newly appointed cabinet and install a fresh team of technocrats.
“The demands are clear: resignation of the government of (Prime Minister) Ahmed Shafiq; immediate release of political prisoners and the issuing of a general amnesty that absolves all,” Safwat Higazie, a leading member of the Council of the Protectors of the Revolution, told Reuters.
“We do not want Shafiq any more, even if they shoot us with bullets,” activists chanted. “Revolution until victory, revolution against Shafiq and the palace.”
The atmosphere was also festive. Mothers pushed little children in strollers, with red, white and black Egyptian flags painted on toddlers’ cheeks. People waved the national flag, danced and sang patriotic songs as soldiers looked on.
During noon prayers, the preacher called on Egypt’s powerful army to stand by the people and to respect their demands. He also expressed Egyptian solidarity with the rebellion against Muammar Gaddafi in the western neighbor Libya.
In the fragmented political arena of post-revolutionary Egypt, those with wealth, whatever its source, may still be able to win power and influence in elections. For decades past, voting in Egypt has been determined by thuggery, bribery and manipulation.
The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s best organized political group, and others are particularly concerned about the key portfolios of defense, interior, justice and foreign affairs, and want a clean break from Mubarak’s old guard.
The military, facing strikes over pay as well as turmoil in Libya, treads a fine line between granting people new freedoms and restoring normal life.
Having dissolved parliament and while preparing a referendum to amend the constitution to dismantle the apparatus that kept Mubarak in power, the military has effectively banned strikes and urged the nation to get back to work.
The military told the Arab world’s most populous nation on Thursday night to guard against “attempts to create strife.”
“The military council emphasizes that it will take all steps to fulfill its promises, so that there is no return to the past and the sublime goal is to achieve the hopes and aspirations of this great nation,” the military said on its Facebook page.
“We demand the resignation of all governors across Egypt. These officials have been appointed by Mubarak and continue to work for him and (Mubarak’s) NDP. They are preparing for parliamentary elections,” Higazie said, adding:
“Their aim is to destroy the people’s Jan 25 revolution and to stage a comeback of the regime to power. Our demands must be fulfilled in order to put an end to this counter-revolution run by Mubarak’s lackeys.”
Jubilant crowds started to gather for the protest early on Friday. Men, women and children, many carrying the Egyptian national flag, streamed toward Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the protests that toppled Mubarak.
Street vendors stood at rickety sidewalk tables, hawking t-shirts, buttons, flags and stickers saying “I love Egypt,” or “January 25, 2011″ — the day Egypt’s revolution began.