Egyptian generals to cede power early
CAIRO — Egypt’s military chief announced Tuesday that the embattled armed forces leadership would hand over power to an elected president no later than July 1, 2012 — earlier than previously expected — even as he defiantly defended the military’s handling of mounting opposition protests.
In his first address to the nation since he took power in February, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi appeared angry, accusing protesters of “insulting” the military despite its efforts to govern the nation during a difficult transitional period. He warned that “any other efforts aimed at hitting us and destroying our spirits and the trust between the armed forces and the people will not be helpful.”
Tantawi argued that the military has acted with restraint in the face of the largest protests since Hosni Mubarak was deposed as president on Feb. 11 following 18 days of popular upheaval.
“We never killed a single Egyptian, man or woman,” Tantawi said in his speech. “The Egyptian military believes it is part and parcel of the Egyptian people.”
Apparently confident of the military’s national popularity, Tantawi offered to put the question of its role to a popular referendum.
“We will go back to our barracks if the people ask us to do so,” he said.
As his speech ended, many protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square responded in unison with loud chants of “Get out! Get out! We will not leave! He will leave!”
The response was reminiscent of popular reaction to Mubarak’s defiant speeches before he was asked to step aside by Tantawi and his generals.
As news of the military’s concession broke, protesters in Tahrir were still on a war footing, creating human cordons to let ambulances approach the front line. Many said it was too little, too late.
In Alexandria, fierce battles continued as security forces bombarded protesters with tear gas and demonstrators responded with rocks and fire bombs. Protesters there declared an open-ended sit-in until the ruling generals step aside.
In Cairo, protesters and security forces continued to clash on the side streets leading to Tahrir Square, where tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered.
“All this should have happened sooner,” said protester Emad Abdel Halim, 28. “The violence needs to stop now.”
Pointing to the sea of people in the square, he added: “What you are seeing now will remain until the military hands over power.”
But some appeared more optimistic.
Ahmad el-Gammal, 27, speaking in Tahrir as he donated blood, said he was willing to give the military the benefit of the doubt. “That is enough for me,” he said. “I got the demands I came for.” He acknowledged that he was probably in the minority.
“Blood has been spilled,” Gammal said. “Some people are here with a spirit of revenge.”
The pledge to hand over power to a civilian leadership was first announced by presidential hopeful Mohammed Salim al-Awaa after a meeting with the ruling generals. The promise marked the biggest concession by the military leadership since anti-government protests began last weekend, mushrooming into a national revolt.