Egyptian army sets martial law

Thousands of protesters maintained their vigil in Cairo’s Tahrir Square Sunday despite Egypt’s new military rulers suspending the constitution and dissolving a Parliament dominated by the ruling party of former president Hosni Mubarak.

According to the “communique No. 5” issued by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, a transitional period of military rule would last six months while reforms were put in place to allow free elections, AFP reported.

It announced the “dissolution of the lower and upper houses of Parliament” and said it would continue to issue decrees during the transitional period.

A committee will also be formed to oversee amendments to the constitution, and a popular referendum will be organized to vote on the changes, the council said, in a bid to ease restrictions on presidential candidates.

The statement also confirmed Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi as Egypt’s de facto head of state, according to the AFP report.

The communique came after thousands of protesters gathered at Tahrir Square Sunday, expressing their concerns that the transition government may fail to bring democracy, and proposing to form a council of trustees to stay in the square until their demands are met.

The military, which pledged to protect the people’s legitimate demands, said it would clear the square.

“We do not want any protesters to sit in the square after today,” Mohamed Ibrahim Moustafa Ali, the head of military police, told protesters, while soldiers removed tents from the square, Reuters reported.

“The general order is not to use physical force on protesters, but there is no telling what may happen when tempers flare. Firing is absolutely forbidden,” an army captain told Reuters.

Li Weijian, director of the Research Center of West Asian and African Studies at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, told the Global Times that the continued protests highlight Egypt’s uncertain future.

“The lack of a political figure who can represent Egyptian voices and demands after Mubarak’s ouster has shattered the protesters’ confidence in the military and the transition government,” Li said. “The country’s opposition parties have too low support to fill the power vacuum, although they will try to compete in the upcoming general elections.”

When asked about Washington’s role in the process, Li said, “The US has abandoned Mubarak, but not Egypt. Cairo’s next ruler is unlikely to be an anti-US politician because Washington needs Egypt’s influence in the region and, in turn, Egypt needs US aid.”

Ahmed Moshref, a local tourist guide, told the Global Times that if the transition government fails to bring reforms to the country, protesters will return to the streets without hesitation.

“They need to secure fair and open general elections and bring real reforms to the country, especially in anti-corruptions. Many people still have trust in the military, which pledged to protect people’s legitimate rights,” he said.

Besides the ongoing protests, many Egyptians have begun returning to their normal lives, with more people returning to work Sunday, and with shops reopening.

“It’s time to start rebuilding the country,” protester Yehya Kheireldin told CNN, pointing to the hundreds of volunteers who were sweeping away the debris left by the sit-in.

Meanwhile, British Minister for Business Vince Cable said countries need to work together on Mubarak’s assets, reported to be worth in many billions of dollars and held secretly around the world, Reuters reported.

Britain’s Serious Fraud Office, which investigates financial crime, has launched a hunt for cash and assets linked to Mubarak, the Sunday Times reported without citing sources.

So far, only Switzerland has announced a freeze on assets that might belong to Mubarak, according to Reuters.

Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq said Sunday that Mubarak remained at his residence in the Sinai resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Separately, anti-government protests broke out in Yemen and Algeria in a manner similar to the Egyptian unrest.

Protests in Yemen entered their third straight day Sunday with several thousand demonstrators demanding political reform and the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. In the center of Algiers, small groups of protesters, waving newspapers featuring Mubarak’s abdication, demanded the ouster of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Some analysts suggested that the Egyptian unrest may have a domino effect on other Arab countries, but Li disagreed.

“Arab countries have their similarities and diversities. Generalizing their political condition is inappropriate,” Li said.

Yu Miao contributed to this story (Global Times)

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