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Tension Rises in Egypt Between Government, Protesters

  • Al Pessin

Egyptian protesters capture two of some 30 men armed with knives and sticks who attempted to storm the protesters' tent camp set up in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, July 12, 2011

Egyptian protesters capture two of some 30 men armed with knives and sticks who attempted to storm the protesters' tent camp set up in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, July 12, 2011

Young people in a tent city at the center of Cairo's Tahrir Square chanted a song from the 1950s, with words updated to refer to their revolution, saying they want to return Egypt to what they see as its former glory.

Tension rose in Egypt Tuesday with a tough statement from the interim government and a march on a main government building where the prime minister and his Cabinet have their offices.

Jeffrey Grieco, International Relief and Development, spoke with Susan Yackee about his organization’s work in post-Mubarak Egypt.

Young people in a tent city at the center of Cairo's Tahrir Square chanted a song from the 1950s, with words updated to refer to their revolution, saying they want to return Egypt to what they see as its former glory. While they sang, people of all ages flowed through civilian checkpoints into the square in response to a call by activist groups for yet another large protest.

The people complain that the ruling military council and Prime Minister Essam Sharaf are not moving fast enough to implement reforms and to put former regime members and security officers on trial.

On Monday, the prime minister promised to reshuffle his Cabinet and appoint new regional governors by Sunday. He said he will resign if he does not achieve that.

Later, the government announced that the Cabinet reshuffle had begun, with the resignation of the prime minister's deputy, and said meetings were under way to decide on further changes.

Also, an Egyptian court on Tuesday convicted a former prime minister and two Cabinet ministers of corruption and sentenced them to up to 10 years in jail. The three served under ex-President Hosni Mubarak who also faces corruption-related charges and resigned in February.

At Tahrir Square, many protesters see the government's moves as too little, too late.

In a tent at the middle of the square Tuesday, Abdullah Noufal, the communications director of one of the main protest groups, the April Sixth Movement, says he has heard promises like the prime minister's latest one for months. He said it is time for real action. Noufal added that this was a popular revolution, not a military coup, and he will stay on the square until the country's new military rulers meet the protesters' demands. And he is not alone. At least several hundred others are living around him in the makeshift encampment, shaded by bed sheets strung between trees and light poles.

The relaxed atmosphere in the camp was disrupted early Tuesday when, protesters say, about 30 men attacked the area, wielding knives and sticks. They injured several people before being repulsed by the protesters. It was not clear who the men were.

While tension on the square is rising, the interim government also appears to be losing patience.

In a tough statement broadcast on national television, and designed to discourage people from blocking government buildings as planned, interim council member Major General Mohsen al-Fangari warned activists not to deviate from their peaceful approach or do anything that would harm the national interest.

Wearing his military uniform, shaking his finger and speaking emphatically, al-Fangari said the council will not give up its role until after elections, scheduled for later this year.

He also said the council had made a move to address one of the protesters' demands, starting work on a statement of principles that will guide the process of writing a new constitution.

At the English-language newspaper Daily News Egypt, chief editor Rania al-Malky understands the protesters' impatience on some issues, but also says they should continue to be patient on others.

"When it comes to the trials of police officers, there is a legitimate complaint there," al-Malky noted. "But when it comes to demanding that the trials in general be sped up, when it comes to the big demands like social justice, I think people just need to be a little bit more patience. There needs to be a realization that things will not happen and change overnight."

Al-Malky says the government has created a "crisis of confidence" by moving too slowly in the nearly five months since it took power, leaving many people unwilling to trust officials to deliver on their promises.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.

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