CAIRO – Egypt's military leaders dissolved parliament and suspended the constitution Sunday, meeting two key demands of protesters who have been keeping up pressure for immediate steps to transition to democratic, civilian rule after forcing Hosni Mubarak out of power.
The military rulers that took over when Mubarak stepped down Friday and the caretaker government also set as a top priority the restoration of security, which collapsed during the 18 days of protests that toppled the regime.
The protesters had been pressing the ruling military council to immediately move forward with the transition process by appointing a presidential council, dissolving the parliament and releasing detainees.
"In a country like Egypt, with a pharaonic legacy, having no president and no head of state is not easy," said Amr el-Shobaky, a member of the Committee of Wise Men — a self-appointed group of prominent figures who are allied with the protesters and helping mediate in the crisis.
In their latest communique, the ruling council said it will run the country for six months, or until presidential and parliament elections can be held. It said it was forming a committee to amend the constitution and set the rules for popular referendum to endorse the amendments.
Both the lower and upper houses of parliament are being dissolved. The last parliamentary elections in November and December were heavily rigged by the ruling party, virtually shutting out any opposition representation.
The caretaker Cabinet, which was appointed by Mubarak shortly after the mass pro-democracy protests began on Jan. 25, will remain in place until a new Cabinet in formed — a step that is not expected to happen until after elections. The ruling military council reiterated that it would abide by all of Egypt's international treaties agreed in the Mubarak era, most importantly the peace treaty with Israel.
The caretaker government met for the first time since Mubarak stepped down.
"Our concern now in the Cabinet is security, to bring security back to the Egyptian citizen," Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq told a news conference after the meeting.
The police, hated for their brutality and corruption under decades-old emergency laws, marched Sunday through Tahrir Square to the Interior Ministry, which oversees them. They demanded better pay and conditions, but also sought to absolve themselves of responsibility for the police's attempted crackdown at the start of the protests that killed many demonstrators.
"You have done this inhuman act," one of the Tahrir protesters said to the police. "We no longer trust you."
Hearing the accusations, Said Abdul-Rahim, a low-ranking officer, broke down in tears.
"I didn't do it. I didn't do it," he implored. "All these orders were coming from senior leaders. This is not our fault. "
About 2,000 police demonstrated, at times scuffling with soldiers who tried to disperse them. Some troops fired gunshots in the air, but later withdrew to avoid antagonizing the protesters. A few tanks remained outside the ministry to protect it.
"This is our ministry," the police shouted. "The people and the police are one hand," they chanted, borrowing an expression for unity.
The interior minister, Mahmoud Wagdy, emerged from the building to talk to the police through a megaphone. He said they had a right to be angry.
"Give me a chance," he said.
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