By Safaa Abdoun and Dalia Rabie
CAIRO: In a televised statement, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi announced that he has accepted the Cabinet’s resignation and that presidential elections will take place no later than June 2012.
Tantawi also said that parliamentary elections will be held as scheduled, slated to begin Nov. 28, and that a new government with a proper mandate will be formed.
He maintained that SCAF has no intention to remain in power and has Egypt’s best interest at heart, lamenting the country’s deteriorating economy, saying it lost several investment opportunities which Egypt direly needed.
Tantawi said that the military council has exercised self-restraint and endured insults, accusations and attempts to tarnish its image throughout the transition process, “which is much more difficult than it seems.”
“We do not care who runs for elections and who is elected president and yet we are accused of being biased,” he said.
Tantawi said the military council stopped referring civilians to military trials except in cases where military law has been breached and “has not fired a single shot at any Egyptian.”
He added that the council would be willing to relinquish power through a public referendum, if necessary.
The field marshal began his speech by expressing “regret” over the recent incidents “that are taking us backwards,” and offering his condolences to the victims’ families.
Only minutes before he gave his speech, Cabinet announced on its Facebook page that central security forces will be pulled from the Tahrir area.
Another statement published on SCAF’s Facebook page also minutes before the speech, said that investigations into Maspero’s Oct. 9 violence and the clashes of Nov. 19 and 20, will be transferred from the military to the public prosecution.
Political party representatives had attended crisis talks with SCAF earlier on Tuesday and said that a national salvation government is in the process of being formed, as pressure mounted for a swifter transfer of power.
However, Tantawi’s speech has not satisfied calls for the army council to cede power, as chants intensified in a packed Tahrir Square: “Leave, leave.”
More marches were reportedly heading to the square to call for civilian rule as many likened the speech to ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s first televised appearance during the January uprising that eventually toppled him.
Abou Elela Mady, the head of the Wasat Party had said that the presidential elections will be held before July 2012. Under the previous army timetable, the vote may not have happened until late 2012 or early 2013.
Presidential hopefuls Mohamed ElBaradei and Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh are recommended to head the new national salvation government. Both had refused to attend the meeting with SCAF.
Parties across the spectrum tried to defuse growing calls for a “second revolution.”
Activists, however, have stressed that ongoing protests are the continuation of the revolution that started in January to topple Hosni Mubarak’s regime, and called for a million-man march on Tuesday to reiterate demands for civilian rule.
Protesters flocked to Tahrir early in the day and by evening the iconic square was packed, as demonstrations took place simultaneously around the country.
Sparked by the violent dispersal of a peaceful Tahrir sit-in early Saturday, protesters have since been facing off with security forces, as the rising death toll reached 28 with over 17,00 injured.
Battling on the front line of Mohamed Mahmoud Street, protesters managed to secure the rest of the square as police and military forces used batons, tear gas and birdshot in attempts to clear the heart of downtown Cairo. While the square itself was relatively calm, fighting on the front line continued with injured still being carried out to the nearby field hospitals.
Sharaf’s Cabinet had submitted its resignation to SCAF Monday evening, on the back of these violent confrontations.
“SCAF has to take quick action regarding the formation of a national salvation government because we’ve had enough impediments to the dreams of the revolution,” said Hussein Mansour, member of Al-Wafd party’s higher committee.
He recommended figures such as ElBaradei, Abol Fotouh, Hazem El-Biblawi and deputy PM Aly El-Selmy to be included in the new Cabinet.
Earlier, the Free Egyptians Party released a statement saying that they refused to attend the crisis talks with SCAF until they accepted Cabinet’s resignation and appointed a national salvation government.
“Crossing over from the transitional period into constitutional and democratic rule, ending the squandering of state resources and mismanagement of the economy, regaining security and stability will not be achieved except with a national salvation government with a strong mandate,” the party said, adding that they recommend ElBaradei as he has the qualifications to carry out this responsibility.
Presidential hopeful Hamdeen Sabahy also said that a national salvation government was the only way out of this crisis.
In a statement, Sabahy said that this government’s main objectives should be “food, security and democracy to the people.”
He noted the importance of restructuring of the Ministry of Interior which must “protect citizens and not the regime.”
“A citizen participating in a peaceful protest cannot be killed,” he said.
Furthermore, Sabahy said that a national salvation government should include all political currents without sidelining anyone.
The April 6 Youth Movement had said earlier that they “are on the street to pressure SCAF to accept Cabinet’s resignation and move fast,” said Injy Hamdy, spokesperson of the movement.
“Sharaf’s Cabinet must go and [Minister of Interior Mansour] El-Essawi has to be put on trial and an investigation into the violence against the protestors must be initiated,” she added.
The movement said that demonstrations will continue until a national salvation Cabinet is formed.
“For the past three days [Tahrir] has been demanding a national salvation government … but SCAF is dealing with people with arrogance and Mubarak regime’s methods are still ruling us,” said Karima El-Hifnawy from the Egyptian Socialist Party and member of the National Association for Change. -Additional reporting by Amira Salah-Ahmed