Egypt Cabinet Resigns as Protests Intensify
Egypt's interim cabinet has offered its resignation to the country's ruling military council as clashes raged for a third day in Cairo's Tahrir Square, pitting police and soldiers against protesters demanding democratic change.
"The government of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf has handed its resignation to the [ruling] Supreme Council of the Armed Forces," Mohammed Hegazy, cabinet spokesperson, said in a statement aired on Monday night by the official MENA news agency.
"Owing to the difficult circumstances the country is going through, the government will continue working" until the resignation is accepted, Hegazy added.
The resignation comes as Egyptians clashed with security forces in what has been some of the worst since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, the former president, in February.
Egypt's health ministry said at least 33 people have been killed and 1,500 wounded in clashes between government forces and protesters since Saturday, raising concerns over parliamentary elections due to begin later this month.
"Thousands of people in unison are chanting 'The people want the end of the field marshal’,” Al Jazeera’s Sherine Tadros reported on Monday night from Tahrir Square, referring to Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the leader of the military council.
“For the past 48 hours, there have been sporadic calls for some kind of organised protests.”
Tahrir Square has become the major rallying point for protesters, recalling the 18-day uprising that ended Mubarak's three decades of power.
Tadros reported that thousands of people began flocking into Tahrir Square on Monday evening, with ambulances coming in to take away the injured.
"The resolve of people is pretty amazing, they keep showing up… everyone seems to feel this is very much a battle between them and the police,” she said.
Egyptian political forces behind the uprising that toppled president Hosni Mubarak called for a mass rally to demand the army cede power to civilian rule, following three days of deadly clashes.
The Coalition of Revolution Youth and the April 6 movement, among others, have called for the protest at 4:00 pm local time (14:00 GMT) on Tuesday in Tahrir Square.
Reporting from the seaside town of Alexandria, Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh said a 'million man march' was also being planned there for Tuesday.
Sporadic clashes between protesters and security forces erupted throughout the day on Monday in Cairo and other parts of the country, notably Alexandria and Suez in the north.
During the clashes in Cairo, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets while protesters broke up pavements to hurl chunks of concrete at police.
General Saeed Abbas, deputy head of the central military region, said that the military was protecting government buildings and not targeting protesters.
"The armed forces were dispatched following a request from the interior minister. It was approved by the head of the military supreme council to assist the security forces in protecting the ministry of interior, nothing else," Abbas said. "They did not come to disperse protesters, or to remove them from Tahrir Square. They didn't leave the vicinity of the interior ministry."
Few of the protesters believe this message, however, as footage showing police brutality continues to emerge.
Military seeks distance
As the death toll continued to rise on Monday, the military tried to distance itself from the violence.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), Egypt's ruling council, repeated its commitment to its "roadmap" for transition and expressed "sorrow" over the situation.
Egyptians are scheduled to elect a new parliament in a staggered vote that starts on November 28. Yet, even when the assembly is picked, executive powers would remain with the army until a presidential election, which may not happen until late 2012 or early 2013. Protesters want a much swifter transition.
"We are all insisting on having the election on time; the government, parties and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces," Mohamed Hegazy, a cabinet spokesperson, said.
The security crackdown on protesters elicited condemnation from parties across the political spectrum;from Mohamed ElBaradei, a presidential hopeful and head of the National Association for Change, to the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party.
In what appeared to be a concession to the protesters, Egypt's ruling generals issued a law on Monday barring anyone found guilty of corruption from politics, but protesters said it would not allay their concerns that former supporters of Mubarak may regain influence.
"The council is out of step with the people," Mohamed Fahmy, an activist, said.
Protesters are also demanding a presidential election be held by April 2012 and a complete overhaul of the interior ministry.
A press conference planned for Monday to detail how the election process would proceed was postponed with no new date set.
Meanwhile, several political parties and individual candidates said they were suspending their electoral campaign, raising concerns over whether the vote will go ahead at all.