CAIRO — Egypt’s caretaker prime minister appealed Thursday for a two-month period of calm to try to end the nation’s political crisis and restore security.
Kamal el-Ganzouri made the appeal as state-run newspapers warned of an alleged plot to start a second, violent revolution on Jan 25.
Ganzouri, 78, did not address video evidence and witness accounts showing that military police beat and shot unarmed demonstrators in clashes that began last Friday. Instead, he largely blamed some of the protesters who threw rocks and firebombs for inciting the violence. His main message was conciliatory.
“I say to everyone that we must forget the past and move forward in a dialogue with all shades so that Egypt can live in peace,” Ganzouri said at a news conference. “I don’t condemn or defend anyone, I just wish that everyone could work to end the violence.”
Political activists were unconvinced by Ganzouri’s words. They worried that warnings of a supposed conspiracy against Egypt would be an excuse for security forces to sweep up opposition to military rule.
The move comes directly from the playbook of ousted President Hosni Mubarak, said Ayman Nour, head of the liberal Ghad Party and a possible presidential candidate.
“There is a possibility they will arrest us all before Jan. 25. This is the pretext,” he said.
This week, Nour filed three lawsuits accusing Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, of killing protesters, of slandering Nour by calling him a conspirator against Egypt, and of allowing the beating of Nour’s son.
Egypt’s capital exploded six days ago after soldiers tried to break up an anti-military council sit-in outside the cabinet building. When soldiers severely beat a young man, protesters became incensed and began throwing rocks and cursing the military.
Egypt’s security forces were sent into the crowds a number of times over the past week, brandishing pistols and using truncheons to beat protesters. To contain the unrest, the military built three walls around Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the symbolic home of dissent since the winter uprising that overthrew Mubarak. At least 17 people have been killed and hundreds of others wounded in the clashes.
Women were not spared during this week’s crackdown, and images of unarmed female protesters being beaten and dragged through the streets by soldiers angered many Egyptians and prompted criticism from Washington and the United Nations.
Egyptian officials denounced Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s criticism this week.
“Egypt does not accept any interference in its internal affairs and conducts communications and clarifications concerning statements made by foreign officials,” the state news agency MENA quoted Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr as saying.
Activists and a growing number of the political elite are calling for the immediate end to military rule, suspicious that the military council wants to retain power to protect its leaders’ vast economic interests and to prevent their being prosecuted for corruption or for killing protesters.
Ganzouri told reporters that the military council, which took power when Mubarak was forced out Feb. 11, had no desire to rule Egypt indefinitely. “They want to leave today, not tomorrow,” he said.
Ganzouri, a Mubarak-era prime minister, was appointed by Egypt’s ruling council of military generals last month after a week of violence between armed police and rock-throwing protesters left more than 40 people dead. Since October, nearly 100 people have been killed in the conflict.
Political activists are critical of the generals’ handling of the transition to democracy, their human rights record and their efforts to jump-start the economy and restore security. The activists are searching for a way to force the military from power.
Many are taking part in discussions on how to relieve the ruling generals of their duties before the end of June, the deadline for a presidential election. Some have proposed holding presidential elections no later than February. Others want the new, lower house of parliament, which is still being elected, to name a coalition government to handle the transition until a president is elected.