Egypt’s generals stumble in new leadership role
CAIRO — Egypt’s ruling military council answered a long-standing demand of the protest movement by forcing the resignation of Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq on Thursday, but the fitful pacwe of change has left all sides more anxious than ever about the rocky transition ahead.
Borrowing a tactic from the youth movement that toppled President Hosni Mubarak on Feb. 11, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces first announced the resignation by posting three terse lines on its Facebook page.
The generals were evidently trying to head off another huge weekly demonstration Friday on Tahrir Square by naming a new prime minister, one endorsed by the protesters a day before. A celebration is expected instead. But the military met only one of the protesters’ demands — they have also called for the end of Egypt’s emergency law, the release of political prisoners, and the disbanding the secret police.
“The military understands it is not business as usual — but the question is on the range of change and the extent of change,” said Samer Soliman, a political science professor at the American University in Cairo. “The major challenge for the military now is to convince the population to wait.”
The new prime minister is Essam A. Sharaf, a highway engineering professor with a doctorate from Purdue University who served as minister of transportation in 2004. The fact that he only lasted one year as minister and that he came to Tahrir Square with a group of Cairo University professors to chant against Mubarak endeared him to the protesters.
But the reputation the military won for supporting the demonstrators is beginning to tarnish.
“I always trusted them, but today it is not a question of trust,” said Hossam Eissa, a law professor at Ain Shams University. “You cannot appoint a prime minister by asking a few groups of five or six people who come say, ‘We are from Tahrir Square and we think these names are OK.’ There is too much ad lib.”
This nation of more than 80 million people is groping its way ahead partly because it has no real laws to cope with the change. The generals suspended the constitution, but they still refer to it as Egyptians try to rebuild a civil society decimated by 60 years of authoritarian rule. Tunisia, the only other Arab country where the rebellion has succeeded in overthrowing a dictator, faces similar problems.
“The military chose to rule in the Mubarak style,” said one senior Egyptian political figure, speaking anonymously so as not to harm his own interaction with the generals. “They are micromanaging. We say it is time for new parties, and they say we cannot have them because there is no committee to approve them.”
Political activists give the military high marks for edging away from its previously closed ways. Three Supreme Council generals broke precedent by appearing on a popular talk show. One, Gen. Mohamed al-Assar, the deputy defense minister, even called Mubarak’s overthrow “the greatest revolution in the history of Egypt.”
Liam Stack and Mona El-Naggar contributed reporting.