Egypt’s ruling generals say elections will go on despite violence

Posted Nov. 24, 2011, at 8:13 p.m.

CAIRO — Egypt’s beleaguered military council said Thursday that it would press ahead with a parliamentary election Monday, though it acknowledged “many violations” by security forces, whose efforts to clear out protesters backfired and triggered a wider uprising just days before the vote.

“We will not delay elections. This is the final word,” Maj. Gen. Mamdouh Shaheen of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said at a news conference in Cairo.

Several Egyptian politicians had called for a two-week delay to restore calm to the capital and other cities after clashes between protesters and security forces in which at least 38 people were killed and about 2,700 others were wounded since last weekend.

Thousands of protesters who remained in downtown Cairo’s Tahrir Square said they would continue with plans for a rally Friday to demand that the military rulers cede power immediately to a civilian transitional authority. Many of them said they would boycott an election overseen by generals who either allowed security forces to attack or were powerless to stop them.

The military council repeatedly has refused to either step aside or to delay the vote, sticking to plans for a handover in mid-2012 after a presidential elections Abdelmoez Ibrahim, head of Egypt’s electoral commission, said timely elections were the “lifeline that will get us through this phase.”

The council also pledged to form a new caretaker government — which presumably still would fall under military authority — by Monday, when Egyptians will vote in the first election since President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster in February.

Late Thursday, news reports said, the council appointed a new interim prime minister: Kamal el Ganzoury, 78, who was prime minister from 1996 to 1999. Ganzoury was a relatively popular prime minister who was pushed out by Mubarak.

It was unclear whether Ganzoury would be accepted by the young protesters who are at the vanguard of the uprising.

“Ganzoury gained public pity when he was sacrificed by the Mubarak government, but pity is one thing and the national salvation government demanded by the people is another,” said Emad Gad, a political analyst at the Ahram Center research institute in Cairo.

Egyptian officials on Thursday said a court had ordered the release of three American students arrested during the unrest in Cairo. An Egyptian official said Thursday the three who attend the American University in Cairo were arrested on the roof of a university building near Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square where they were allegedly throwing firebombs at security forces fighting with protesters.

The three, arrested Sunday, are Derrik Sweeney, a 19-year-old Georgetown University student, Luke Gates, a 21-year-old Indiana University student, and Gregory Porter, a 19-year-old Drexel University student.

While concentrated in urban centers, this week’s violence was fierce enough to imperil the elections as questions rose over how the overstretched army and reviled police force could secure polling places. The military council apologized for the deaths, said it would investigate reports that live ammunition was used against civilians, and ended the news conference with a moment of silence for victims of the bloodshed.

Protesters rejected the apology as hollow, saying that the best way to respect the dead would be for the council to delay the elections and to step down after what they described as months of backsliding on revolutionary goals. The military council has tried about 12,000 civilians in military courts — more than Mubarak did in three decades — and sought to quell dissent through arrests, intimidation, media censorship and smear campaigns against human rights groups, activists said.

Instead of assuaging fears with Thursday’s overtures, protesters said, the council only caused more alarm with a new order that some analysts criticized as opening the door for vigilantism on Election Day.

The supreme council’s communique No. 85 called on “honorable citizens” to be on high alert at protest scenes and “to immediately arrest any suspected individuals without harming them” and to turn them over to authorities. The council also encouraged ordinary Egyptians to arrest anyone on rooftops overlooking protest sites and to help the military move the injured to hospitals.

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