Thousands of Egyptians in Tahrir Square celebrated the appointment of Essam Sharaf as the new prime minister, welcoming him during a surprise visit to the square on Friday (March 4th).
Sharaf, a professor of highway engineering at the University of Cairo, was appointed Thursday to succeed Ahmed Shafiq. He served as Minister of Transport and Communications during former Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif's government in 2004. He resigned after several months because of his objection to government policies that he considered "non-reformist", according to his statements at the time.
The Coalition of the January 25 Revolution Youth, the National Assembly for Change, and the Popular Campaign in Support of Mohammed ElBaradei, and other political parties organised a million-man rally in Tahrir Square to thank the armed forces for meeting their demand to dismiss Shafiq's government. They also expressed other demands including dissolving the state security apparatus and removing it from political life, and the release of all political prisoners.
Shafiq had submitted his resignation Thursday to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which is ruling the country during the current transitional stage, because of demonstrations in Cairo and other cities. His tenure lasted 33 days. Protestors and political leaders said during the demonstrations that as a Mubarak appointee, he was too close to the former president, and "he should leave".
George Isaac, leader of the National Assembly for Change, described Sharaf as "a patriotic man whose integrity has earned the support of a majority of the Egyptian people". Isaac asked that Sharaf form a government of technocrats in line with the demands of the people.
Isaac told Al-Shorfa that people need to give the prime minister a chance to form a government which "meets the hopes of the Egyptian people" and includes strong reformist elements who can respond to the current situation.
One day after being appointed, Sharaf went to Tahrir Square to participate in the Friday demonstration. Protesters were surprised to see that he entered the square accompanied by just one bodyguard. The protesters chanted, "Lift your head up. You are Egyptian."
Sharaf stood for a moment of silence to honour the lives of demonstrators who died and said, "Egypt will be a country of free opinions and one where free opinions are voiced outside of prison."
He said that he was assigned a challenging task that requires patience and resolve.
"Tahrir Square is the primary place from which I derive the will and the determination," he said.
"The scene in Tahrir Square has become mixed with joy in the presence of a new prime minister who understands the demands of the people," said Maggie Boutros, a university student. "We look forward to what will happen in the coming days and see if Sharaf will have all the resources to move Egypt to safety in the transitional phase."
Sharaf met with a number of youth representatives of the January 25th revolution in his home Thursday night after being selected prime minister. His official Facebook page, which has more than 60,000 fans just 24 hours after its founding, stated, "The new prime minister stressed the need to work to achieve the demands of the revolution, open channels of dialogue with civil society organisations, activate initiatives for political reform, provide guarantees for the upcoming elections, and organise meetings with trade associations and trade unions to achieve the demands of the Egyptian people."
Wael Qandil, a journalist, said, "With the departure of Shafiq and Mubarak's ministers, the revolution has matured and the demands of the revolutionaries have been met, especially as the new prime minister Essam Sharaf came from the heart of Tahrir Square."
Qandil told Al-Shorfa that Sharaf participated in demonstrations from the first day, and he is not considered a member of the previous regime because he objected to its policies.
He said Friday should be the last day of celebration in Tahrir Square as citizens need to "engage in serious work to start building a new Egypt now that the demolition phase of a cracked system was completed successfully."
Qandil outlined the top priorities the new government should focus on, namely the return of law enforcement officials. "The immediate and urgent requirement is to restore full security in the country. The delay in the return of police to work, in a thorough manner, is something that no one will tolerate."