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Egypt swears in new post-Mubarak Cabinet

AP News
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Posted: Mar 07, 2011 3:33 PM
Egypt swears in new post-Mubarak Cabinet

Egypt's military rulers on Monday swore in a new Cabinet that includes new faces in key ministries, responding to protesters' demands that the new government be free of stalwarts of ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

The new Cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, a U.S.-educated civil engineer, is expected to be met with the approval of the pro-reform groups that led the 18-day uprising that forced Mubarak to step down on Feb. 11.

State TV showed members of the government taking an oath during Monday's swearing-in-ceremony before the head of Egypt's Armed Forces Supreme Council, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi.

The caretaker government's main job and challenge will be to help steer the country through reforms and toward free elections.

Among the most significant changes in the Cabinet designed to meet with protesters' demands, Sharaf named a new interior minister. Maj. Gen. Mansour el-Essawy, a former Cairo security chief, replaces Mahmoud Wagdi, who held the post for less than a month. The Interior Ministry is in charge of the security forces.

El-Essawy, according to a report by the state news agency, pledged after meeting Sharaf Sunday that he would work to restore security and reduce the role of the hated State Security agency.

Protesters have over the past few days rallied outside about a dozen State Security offices across the nation, in many cases storming the buildings, including the agency's main headquarters in the Cairo suburb of Nasr City. The protests followed reports that agents were burning and shredding documents to destroy evidence that would incriminate them in possible cases of human rights abuses.

On Sunday, army soldiers fired in the air and used stun guns to disperse hundreds of protesters who attempted to storm the State Security offices inside the Interior Ministry in downtown Cairo. The protesters said they wanted to see for themselves whether the building had secret cells and to stop officers from destroying documents.

Forty-seven police officers and soldiers were jailed after an investigation found they were among those who burned documents and destroyed computers at the Nasr City building, the attorney general's office said Monday.

The State Security agency, which employs about 100,000 of Egypt's 500,000-strong security forces, is blamed for the worst human rights abuses against Mubarak's opponents.

Dismantling the agency has been a key demand of the protest groups that led the uprising.

In another sign of the simmering unrest in Egypt, thousands of Coptic Christians protested in Cairo Monday to demand an end to the discrimination they say the minority faces. The crowds were also angry over a dispute between a Christian and a Muslim family south of Cairo over the weekend that resulted in the deaths of two people and the torching of a church.

Egypt's military promised to rebuild the church, but the protesters said they wanted more steps to improve the status of Christians.

Among the other new faces in Egypt's Cabinet was Nabil Elaraby, a veteran and popular public figure who replaces Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul-Gheit. His predecessor had held the job since 2004 but has been maligned by the protesters because of his criticism of the uprising in its early days.

Elaraby, 76, was Egypt's U.N. representative in the 1990s and served as a judge at the International Court of Justice between 2001 and 2006. He was critical of the government's crackdown against the uprising and was a member of a committee to advise protest leaders on their reform demands.

The new Cabinet also includes a new justice minister, Mohammed al-Jundi, replacing one who was considered a close Mubarak ally and whose dismissal was demanded by the opposition groups.

Also on Monday, an independent human rights and democracy watchdog criticized proposed constitutional amendments, calling them "deeply flawed" and saying they have frustrated Egyptians' hope that they would usher in a democratic transition.

A constitutional reform panel last month proposed 10 constitutional amendments that are to be put to a popular referendum on March 19. They include opening Egypt's presidential elections to competition and imposing a two-term limit on future presidents _ a dramatic shift from a system that allowed the ousted Hosni Mubarak to rule for three decades.

But some Egyptians worry that the proposed changes don't go far enough to ensure a transition to democratic rule and could allow the entrenched old guard to maintain its grip on power.

The ruling military council, which took over from Mubarak, has said the military wants to hand power over to a new government and elected president within six months. It disbanded both houses of parliament and promised to repeal the emergency laws, though only when conditions permit.

In a statement, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies said the short transitional period of six months might exclude the emergent political and youth forces that unleashed the revolution from representation and participation in shaping the country's future.

It urged the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to reconsider the amendments and revise the agenda and priorities of the transitional period.

In the Gaza Strip, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh sent a message of support to the new Egyptian premier. Haniyeh's office said the message praised Sharaf for backing the Palestinians and appealed for an early reopening of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt.

Egypt and Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza, closing the Rafah crossing most of the time, after Hamas overran the territory in 2006. Last year, Israel began allowing a range of items into Gaza, but restrictions are still in place and exports are severely limited.