Mubarak critic asked to form caretaker government


EGYPTIAN PEOPLE power scored a fresh victory yesterday when Essam Sharaf was named prime minister by the governing military council and asked to form a new caretaker government.

Dr Sharaf, a professor of engineering, served as transport minister between 2004-2006 but he resigned following a series of deadly train crashes he blamed on government negligence.

A critic of the old regime, he led one of the protests that precipitated the resignation of former president Hosni Mubarak.

Several thousand activists in Tahrir (Liberation) Square greeted the news by dancing and chanting: “The people and the army are one hand.”

Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei called the appointment “a step on the right path” and expressed his “appreciation to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces for meeting the demands of the people”.

Al-Ghad party head and declared presidential candidate Ayman Nour welcomed the move. “Farewell to the bosom friend of Mubarak and welcome to Sharaf.”

Publisher and columnist Hisham Kassem, an opponent of “too much populism”, said he had “no problem with Shafiq” but expressed hope that “this will be the last change of government and that he [Mr Sharaf] will remain in office until elections are held . . . He has a good track record, is clean, methodical.”

The appointment, announced on the Facebook page of the Egyptian armed forces, pre-empted today’s mass mobilisation – dubbed the Friday of Determination – in Tahrir Square.

The primary demand of organisers had been the resignation of the government under former air force general Ahmad Shafiq put in place by Mr Mubarak shortly before he left office.

Organisers said today’s gathering would not be a protest but a celebration of the realisation of one of the democracy movement’s key demands.

Veteran activist and uprising organiser Mohamed Aboulghar told The Irish Times: “This is a very positive step.

“We will wait [to resume protests] until next week to see if the rest of our demands will be met.”

These include the appointment of a cabinet of technocrats, the lifting of the 1981 emergency law, the dismantling of the state security apparatus, the release of political prisoners and the prosecution of those who ordered a deadly attack on Tahrir Square on February 2nd.

Dr Abulghar revealed the founder of the National Association for Change Dr ElBaradei had a “very positive” meeting with the generals this week.

“He put forward the demands [of the democratic movement]: the early election of a president, a parliamentary election one year later to give time for new parties to form, and the establishment of new television channels and newspapers.”

Professor and physician Youssef Zaki said the appointment of Mr Sharaf and the supreme council’s meeting with Dr ElBaradei “are two big steps”.

However, it remained to be seen if the “military is really ready to share power with civil society”. He pointed out that the generals had chosen Mr Sharaf, not civil society.

“We will see if it [the military] is prepared to share posts with civil society” appointees. The generals’ intentions could be tested over appointments to the ministries of interior, justice and foreign affairs.

Dr Zaki noted that Mr Shafiq resigned shortly after he had performed very poorly in a four-hour television debate with leading writers and analysts.

During the debate he was castigated for describing protesters as children who could be fobbed off with candy and for saying the government had met at the luxury Four Seasons Hotel in Cairo, although hundreds of thousands of Egyptians live in poverty in the vast cemeteries of Cairo’s City of the Dead.