Egyptian army takes charge

Interim rule set as parliament, constitution get makeover

CAIRO | The Egyptian military dissolved the parliament and suspended the constitution Sunday, saying it would rule the country for six months or until elections can be held, according to a statement read on state television.

The moves meet two of the key demands of protesters who had vowed Saturday to remain in Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the 18-day uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak, until all of their demands were met.

Egypt’s Cabinet, appointed by Mr. Mubarak, will remain in place, according to a statement by the Cabinet on Sunday.

The fall of the Mubarak regime was met with elation by demonstrators who had held protests around the clock since Jan. 25. More than 300 protesters were killed and thousands were injured during the uprising, which left the Egyptian economy in shambles. But demonstrators say that the end of the regime was worth the sacrifice.

“We are looking for freedom,” said 21-year-old Shaqia Abdullah, wearing a red, black and white headband. He had been sleeping on the sidewalks in Tahrir for about two weeks. “And we know how to do it.”

Meanwhile, ripples from the popular uprising in Egypt - and in Tunisia last month - continued to be felt across the Arab world Sunday. Police in Yemen beat back thousands of anti-government protesters in the capital, Sanaa, while security forces in Bahrain set up checkpoints and patrols in anticipation of protests there. In Algeria, organizers of a large pro-reform protest over the weekend called for another massive demonstration this week.

Hailing the fall of the Mubarak regime, President Obama said, “The people of Egypt have spoken.” He also warned that the regime’s collapse marks the beginning of a difficult period for Egypt as it tries to recover economically and build a new government.

“This is not the end of Egypt’s transition,” he said in a televised speech. “It’s the beginning. I’m sure there will be difficult days ahead, and many questions remain unanswered.”

Mr. Mubarak is thought to be in Sharm el Sheik, a Sinai resort town, but rumors abound regarding his whereabouts.

Before his resignation, reports circulated that his family had amassed a fortune between $5 billion and $70 billion. That infuriated many Egyptians, who said his money was stolen from the people, 40 percent of whom live on less than $2 a day. As revelers celebrated his departure Friday night, many chanted, “We want our money back.”

Mr. Mubarak’s accounts already have been frozen in Switzerland, and Great Britain is under increased pressure to follow suit. Britain says it cannot take action without the request of Egyptian authorities or charges that Mr. Mubarak’s funds pose a threat to the U.K. Mr. Mubarak’s assets also could be frozen if he is blacklisted by the U.N. or the Europe Union, according to the Associated Press.

Many analysts expressed fears that the end of the regime would threaten the country’s peace deal with Israel, a key element to stability in the region. But on Sunday, Egypt’s ambassador to the U.S., Sameh Shoukry, told ABC News that the agreement would be upheld.

“We’ve been able to establish security and stability in the region,” he said. “And I believe it is a main element in terms of our foreign policy.”

This comes after a roller coaster weekend for Egypt.

With the country in turmoil on Thursday and thousands of teachers, railroad technicians, sanitation workers and many others on strike, most thought that Mr. Mubarak was about to announce his resignation. For hours, Tahrir Square was crowded with elated protesters, congratulating each other on their imminent victory.

But shortly before 11 p.m., the president addressed the nation, saying he would hand over his powers to Vice President Omar Suleiman but finish his term in office. As the president spoke, crowds in Cairo and other cities shouted, “Get out! Get out!”

On Friday, hundreds of thousands of angry people fanned out across the city and to protest in front of the Presidential Palace, the state television building and other key locations.

But as the sun began to set, shouts of “God is Great” rang out over Cairo as Mr. Suleiman announced the president’s resignation, adding that the army would take control of the country. Friday night was pandemonium in Cairo as revelers sang, danced, shot off fireworks, beat drums, honked their horns and congratulated one another well into the morning.

By Saturday, Tahrir Square remained packed with locals, many joining the protesters for the first time to celebrate. About 1,000 volunteers combed the streets picking up trash, scrubbing graffiti off walls and repainting curbs.

“This is our country now,” said 18-year-old Hind Shaaban, who sat by her black trash bag and broom on a short break. “We have to help it.”

In a coffee shop on the square, men smoking shisha pipes and drinking coffee were quick to point out that they were now free to speak their minds. They described the demands they said must be met before the Egyptian people are satisfied.

The men said they expect the constitution to be amended to allow for fair elections, the parliament to be disbanded and the end of a decades-old emergency law that has allowed the Egyptian police to arrest people without warrants or probable cause.

In an apparent effort to ease fears about military rule, the army announced Friday that it would lift the emergency laws “as soon as current circumstances end.”

Other demands include the formation of an independent police force and judiciary and the investigation of leaders accused of corruption, kidnapping and torture.

Many protesters say they are confident the military will make decisions based on the will of the people. Choices that do not reflect their demands, they said, would lead to more protests that would stop the army, just as they stopped Mr. Mubarak.

“I trust [the army] for the moment,” said Gaweed Abuashima, who came to Cairo from a village of 5,000 in the countryside when the uprising began. “If it is going to do something bad, then we will refuse it.”

By Saturday evening, army security measures were already in place. Since the protests began, government-imposed curfews as early as 3 p.m. have gone largely ignored. On Saturday night, curfew was set for midnight. Shortly after midnight, army checkpoints cut off Tahrir Square from most of Cairo and residents were told to get off the streets.

Early Sunday, soldiers surrounded the tent villages that had housed Tahrir protesters for weeks, allowing for a small stream of traffic to pass though the square. Many protesters already had left, saying they trusted the army to implement promised changes. Others had planned to stay until the changes took effect or a specific timeline had been set. By Sunday afternoon, most of the tents were gone.

A few tents remained, including that of Adi, a contractor. He said he had been questioned by bands of young men and asked by the army to leave. Upon refusal, he was not arrested, but others were forced to leave.

“They removed most of the tents while people were sleeping, or not at home,” he said, adding that he feared supporters of Mr. Mubarak’s party were planning on organizing counterprotests in the square, to demand the return of the regime.

On nearby streets, young men beat drums and chanted a new version of the uprising’s most common rallying cry: “The people demand the clearing of the streets,” they chanted, trying to encourage the crowds of people, still celebrating, to disperse.

Although many activists still fear retribution from Mubarak supporters still in positions of power, the army has said it will not punish protesters.

“We will not pursue honest people who fought against corruption in the country,” read a statement aired on state television Friday. “In light of recent events and that passage of power … and in the interest of stability and security of the country, we guarantee the end of the state of emergency.”

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