Egyptian soldiers clear protesters from Tahrir Square, as pockets of tension bubble up in Cairo
Sunday, February 13, 2011; 9:37 AM
CAIRO - Soldiers evicted demonstrators from parts of Tahrir Square on Sunday as they tried to restore a measure of normalcy to the Egyptian capital. But tensions flared elsewhere as police and civil servants took advantage of the country's revolutionary tumult to press their own demands for change.
Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq presided over the Egyptian government's first cabinet meeting since President Hosni Mubarak's abrupt resignation Friday. "Our concern now in the cabinet is security, to bring security back to the Egyptian citizen," he said at a press conference.
The Egyptian military has been in control of the country since Mubarak's departure. But military chiefs have ordered the civilian government to remain in place in a caretaker role until a new government is formed.
As daylight broke, soldiers dismantled tents from the makeshift camps that have occupied Tahrir Square since Jan. 25, when protests erupted in Cairo. Some weary demonstrators evacuated voluntarily. Others stood their ground or scuffled with soldiers, though both sides generally refrained from brute force.
By mid-morning, the military had re-opened the square to traffic for the first time in three weeks. But an uneasy mood persisted. A few thousand protesters flocked back to the square as the day unfolded, saying they were not ready to give up.
"We want to stay here until they fulfill our demands," said Mahmoud Sharif, 27, who had 10 days and nights in Tahrir.
Meanwhile, pockets of disorder erupted elsewhere. An aggressive crowd of several hundred police officers - who have largely been on strike or absent from the streets for the past 10 days - marched through the streets to demand pay raises and other benefits.
Many Egyptians harbor deep suspicions about the police, who roughly tried to suppress anti-Mubarak protests in the days prior to his resignation. In contrast, Egyptians have expressed gratitude to the armed forces for standing by and not interfering with the revolution.
The police demonstrators, clad mostly in black leather jackets, swept past a handful of military checkpoints to reach Tahrir Square. There, they stood nose-to-nose with pro-democracy protesters, who seemed skeptical of their intentions.
Chanting, "The police and the people are one," the officers avoided a confrontation and marched a few blocks to the Egyptian Interior Ministry building, where they were finally halted by an army barricade and a three-star general standing athwart a tank.
The police, who report to the ministry, laid out demands for better pay and health care. But they also seemed intent on trying to repair their public image as pro-Mubarak bullies. "We are not thieves," they chanted.
"We have been accused of running away from the city [during the revolution], but we didn't run away," said Mohammed Said, a 15-year veteran of the Cairo police force. He said he earned only 500 Egyptian pounds a month, or about $85, and wanted more.