Egypt’s top military ruler presided over a ceremony to swear in a new civilian Cabinet Thursday, in an effort to placate protesters who continue to complain that there has not been enough reform since mass demonstrations swept then-President Hosni Mubarak from power in February.
The swearing-in ceremony in Cairo changed 14 of the 27 members of the Cabinet, including the ministers of Foreign Affairs and Finance. The chief of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, witnessed the ceremony, and met with the new Cabinet afterwards.
The civilian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, who was appointed by the military council, promised the changes to respond to protesters’ complaints about what they see as the slow pace of change.
But the re-shuffle did not include the ministries of Interior and Justice, which are key targets of the protesters, who want more reform in the police force and swift trials for Mubarak and other former officials.
Several hundred protesters are camped out on Cairo’s central Tahrir Square, and say they will not leave until their demands are met. They are backed by some 25 political groups that have emerged since the revolution. Every Friday, thousands more protesters join them for marches and rallies, and there are similar events in other cities as well.
A former Egyptian diplomat and declared presidential candidate, Abdullah al-Ashaal, who has been active in the protests, says the Cabinet changes will not satisfy the demonstrators.
“I don’t think so because it seems to me the main target, which is in fact intended by the people in the streets, is not addressed. We can not move without cleaning the house and putting everyone to trial. Without doing that, Egypt cannot move even for an inch forward,” said al-Ashaal.
Al-Ashaal says so far ministers in the post-Mubarak Cabinet have lacked the commitment to change that the protesters have.
And he is suspicious of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which took power when President Mubarak resigned. The council has promised to hold parliamentary elections in the fall, to be followed by the drafting of a new constitution and then a presidential election.
But al-Ashaal says its decision Wednesday not to allow international observers during the elections is disturbing.
“It is very bad because if you are clean and honest, you welcome any foreigner to come to observe. But if you have other intentions, you put strong bars against the international observers. It is a test,” al-Ashaal said.
Al-Ashaal is also concerned about indications that the military wants to reserve a special role for itself in the Egyptian political system, including the right to intervene if the country takes a direction top officers do not like. The military says it wants to ensure there is not an Islamist takeover in Egypt, or any other move that could limit democracy and civil rights.
But al-Ashaal says the army is not needed to safeguard the new Egyptian democracy. He says the people have proven that they themselves can do that very well.