The political crisis in Egypt reached a new boiling point when thousands of demonstrators in Cairo's Tahrir Square and other provinces expressed criticism of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf's Monday evening (July 11th) speech in which he announced cabinet changes for several ministries.
In a statement broadcast on Egyptian state television, Sharaf announced a cabinet reshuffle will occur within a week and pledged to change governors before the end of the month. He said, "These changes reflect the goals of the revolution and the real will of the Egyptian people."
Sharaf entrusted Interior Minister Major General Mansour al-Issawi with announcing sweeping changes at the Ministry of the Interior, including the purging of senior police officers involved in killing and beating demonstrators during the days of the revolution. The changes will be in place no later than July 15th.
He called on the Supreme Judicial Council to "apply the principle of openness" in all trials of former regime officials. Sharaf added, "All the trials should be conducted expeditiously to reassure the people and the families of the martyrs rest easy."
Sharaf said he would assume responsibility for leading the administrative board of the welfare fund for the January 25 victims and their families.
The Revolution Youth Coalition said Sharaf's speech did not meet the aspirations of protesters in most provinces. In response, activists will call for continued marches to demand that the government resign and for realisation of the revolution's demands.
The protest began Friday when several parties and young political activists called for holding an open-ended protest until trials began for former regime officials involved in the killing of more than 850 demonstrators during the revolution.
The protesters demanded a public and speedy trial of former President Hosni Mubarak and former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly on charges of ordering the killing of demonstrators and for corruption in Egyptian political life. The demands also included removal of all ministers who were members of the former ruling National Democratic Party, which a court dissolved in April.
The protesters in Tahrir Square blocked the Mugamma administrative building Monday, the largest government services complex in Egypt, and prevented thousands of employees from going to work. They hung a huge banner that read, "Closed to purge Egypt and achieve the demands of the revolution."
Abdul Rahman Samir, a member of the Revolution Youth Coalition, said the prime minister's speech offered nothing new but increased the political forces' insistence on their demands.
Samir added, "The government of Dr. Sharaf lost its link with Tahrir Square, and the government's attempts to resolve the crisis will further exacerbate rather than solve them."
He said that demonstrators in Tahrir Square and other provinces decided to continue the protest and call for massive demonstrations demanding that the government resign.
Ahmed Maher, the general co-ordinator of the April 6 Movement, told Al-Shorfa that Sharaf's statement, even if it contained good points and new promises, is not enough.
He said the demonstrators will wait for practical measures and an answer to the rest of the demands the prime minister did not mention in his speech such as abolition of military trials and abolition of the law banning demonstrations and strikes.
Mahmoud al-Derby, 23, who protested in Tahrir Square, said, "The chants in the square escalated against the prime minister after his speech in spite of everyone's respect for Dr. Essam Sharaf's integrity and trustworthiness."
Amr al-Shoubaki, president of the Arab Forum for Alternatives, said the government is managing the current political crisis by relying upon the same tactics of previous governments during the Mubarak era, notably procrastination and formal ministerial announcements.
Al-Shoubaki added that the government's recent statement addresses the "subtitles of the crisis and not the headlines that put us on the road to reform, just like the former president did."
In a public statement Tuesday afternoon, Supreme Council of the Armed Forces spokesman General Mohsen El-Fangari reiterated the Council's commitment to hand political power to a civilian administration by the end of the year. It also gave Prime Minister Sharaf a vote of confidence.
El-Fangari also announced that the council will begin the process by which a constituent assembly would be selected to draft a new constitution for the country.
Turning to the protests that have grown over the past few days, Gen. El-Fangeri issued a stern warning "to anyone who would disrupt public order and services" and said that "all options" were available for dealing with the demonstrations.