Egypt’s caretaker government met yesterday for the first time since former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was overthrown, as police launched protests.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which assumed power when Mubarak stepped down on Friday following a massive country-wide revolt, has said the Cabinet will remain in place until the election of a new civilian government.
There was an empty space on the wall outside the Cabinet room where the former leader’s portrait used to hang during his three--decade-long reign.
Mubarak had appointed the Cabinet — made up mostly of senior military men — during the early days of the revolt in a failed bid to placate protesters.
Meanwhile, Egyptian troops fired warning shots and scuffles broke out when policemen protested to restore their reputation and win pay rises after they found themselves on the wrong side of the uprising.
One policeman’s teeth were smashed in during the fight with soldiers outside the interior ministry, where around 1,500 members of the force called for the despised Egyptian former interior minister Habib al-Adly to be publicly executed.
Army troops had fired over the heads of the protesters, some of whom were in police uniform, as the crowd chanted at their former boss: “Habib, you know you will be executed in the public square!”
Egypt’s police are broadly hated and seen as brutal and corrupt, while the military has been embraced by the anti-regime protesters.
However, the police protesting yesterday insisted that they had been ordered to deal harshly with the protests by Mubarak’s security services and argued they were underpaid by their corrupt -government masters.
Yesterday’s Cabinet meeting came a day after the resignation of the highly unpopular information minister Anas al-Fiki, who was allegedly behind a media campaign that presented the protesters as foreign agents.
Fiki, Adly and sacked prime minister Ahmed Nazif have all been banned from leaving the country while they are investigated over graft allegations.
In Tahrir Square, military police directed cars through what had been the epicenter of the uprising, but many protesters remained as life started to return to normal.
The army was praised for allowing demonstrations to unfold peacefully, but the protesters have demanded civilian government and said they will return to the streets in the absence of a swift transition.
Jihad Laban, an accountant, said much work remained to make sure the revolution did not squander what it had gained.
“The goal was never just to get rid of Mubarak. The system is totally corrupt and we won’t go until we see some real reforms. I am going to be buried in Tahrir, I am here for my children. Egypt is too precious to walk away now,” he said.
The tension reflected the fragility of the situation as protesters press for a voice in guiding their country’s move to democracy. Egypt’s new military rulers promised on Saturday to abide by the peace treaty with Israel and eventually hand power to an elected government, but many protesters worried long-sought reforms would be stalled if they give up.
The crowd on Tahrir Square was down from a peak of a -quarter-million at the height of the demonstrations to a few thousand yesterday.