The three days of unrest have left at least 33 protesters dead. The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces issued a statement saying that it was watching the “escalating events” with “extreme caution and sorrow.”
It remained unclear whether the protests would disrupt parliamentary elections scheduled for next week. Victoria Nuland, a spokeswoman for the State Department, said that the United States was “deeply concerned” about the bloodshed and urged all parties to focus “on holding free, fair and peaceful elections as scheduled” on Monday.
As the resignation offer from the military-backed cabinet was announced Monday night, Egyptians thronged into Tahrir Square chanting slogans against the military council. Riot policemen for a third straight day battled rock-throwing protesters with tear gas and rubber-coated bullets.
The cabinet, led by Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, called the recent violence “unfortunate” and said it felt “politically responsible.” But it was unclear whether the cabinet’s offer to step down was intended to appease activists or register opposition to the rough treatment of protesters, which was carried out by security forces with military backing.
There were conflicting media reports about whether the generals had accepted the resignation, and a military spokesman reached by phone said he could not say whether the generals had accepted it.
But activists called the cabinet’s resignation offer insignificant.
“We don’t care if the government resigned; we want the head of the snake, not the body,” said Abdalla Waleed, 20, a blogger who has been protesting in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square.
The country’s military generals were hailed as heroes when they sided with demonstrators and pushed President Hosni Mubarak out of power in what amounted to a soft coup. Over the past nine months, however, the generals have tried thousands of civilians in military courts and expanded the use of a despised emergency law that gives the government sweeping powers to detain people, worrying some Egyptians that they had traded one autocratic regime for another.
Political leaders across the ideological spectrum appeared to coalesce Monday around a list of demands. Key among them was that military leaders cede power to elected officials before the summer, rather than sticking to the current transition time frame, which could leave them in control for up to two more years.
The Revolutionary Youth Coalition, a group of pro-democracy organizations, called for a “million-man march” Tuesday. Representatives of the group have asked the generals in charge to hand power to a national unity government led by Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and a Nobel Peace Prize winner. ElBaradei has been in talks with the military leadership, said Shady Ghazali Harb, a leading member of the coalition.