CAIRO — Egypt’s military chiefs pledged Tuesday to speed up the transition to democratic rule, saying they will transfer power to an elected president by July 2012, a clear concession after four days of raucous street demonstrations.
The move was announced by the country’s military leader in his first national address since assuming power in February. But it appeared unlikely to deflate the anger of many of the tens of thousands of protesters on the streets of Cairo and in other parts of the country who have been demanding the military council’s immediate departure.
The Washington Post's Ernesto Londono reports from Tahrir Square. As angry crowds gathered for a fourth consecutive day, Egypt's military chiefs held a meeting with political leaders in hopes of diffusing the deepening political crisis.
Protests continue across the Middle East and North Africa: See the latest developments from Egypt.
Speaking on state television in his green army uniform, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi appeared indignant, accusing demonstrators who have turned out in increasingly larger numbers of “insulting” the military. And he echoed the paternalism voiced by then-President Hosni Mubarak near the end of his three-decade rule, describing the armed forces’ hard work on behalf of the Egyptian people during the challenging transition period that has followed Mubarak’s fall.
A sea of protesters in Tahrir Square booed Tantawi as he finished speaking, and they erupted in chants calling for his ouster — a scene almost identical to those that played out during Mubarak’s final days. But this time, it was unclear whether those who braved tear gas to demand a change in leadership had the backing of the rest of the nation.
The dramatic events marked the most critical test yet of Egypt’s half-finished revolution, which has appeared orderly in contrast to the other Arab Spring uprisings that it helped spark, but which many Egyptians see as too slow.
And they deepened security concerns ahead of Monday’s parliamentary elections. The violent clashes between security forces and angry protesters have left 33 dead, at least 1,700 wounded and dozens under arrest. Among those detained were three Americans studying at the American University in Cairo, who were accused on state-controlled television of throwing firebombs during the demonstrations.
In Washington, the Obama administration applauded the Egyptian military’s decision to speed up the transfer to civilian rule. “These are reassurances that the Egyptian people and many of the political parties had been seeking for some time,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, adding that the United States “will hold the ruling authorities to the commitments that were made today.”
Although the military’s timetable for transition had been vague, it had appeared increasingly likely until now that the generals would remain in power until sometime in 2013. Tantawi also insisted that parliamentary elections would be held as scheduled on Monday.
Military officials also said that they had accepted the resignation offered Monday by the military-backed cabinet and that they will replace it with a new civilian government, which will serve until the military cedes power. But it was unclear whether that proposal had the support of political leaders across the ideological spectrum.