Senior Egyptian military official heckled

AP News
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Posted: Jul 16, 2011 5:42 PM
Senior Egyptian military official heckled

A member of Egypt's ruling military council on Saturday briefly visited a protest camp in a central Cairo square, but left after protesters, some holding up shoes in anger, booed him off a stage.

Maj. Gen. Tarek el-Mahdi had come to Tahrir Squar to persuade a dozen demonstrators to end a hunger strike they began several days ago, but was forced to cut short his visit because of the heckling.

El-Mahdi later told state TV that he was disappointed that a small crowd of protesters managed to drive him out of the square before he could reach the tent housing the hunger strikers.

"I have failed at my mission," said the general, the first member of the military council to visit the tent camp since it was set up by hundreds of protesters more than a week ago.

Tahrir Square had been at the heart of the 18-day uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak on Feb. 11.

Many Egyptians are growing impatient with the military council that took over from Mubarak, saying change is not coming quickly enough. Protesters returned to the square last week, demanding speedy trials for members of the security forces suspected in the killing of nearly 900 activists during the uprising and seeking a purge of remnants of the old regime.

In the latest move to calm rising public anger, Prime Minister Essam Sharaf accepted the resignation of his foreign minister, Mohammed el-Orabi, Egyptian state TV reported late Saturday. El-Orabi was the second foreign minister in Egypt's caretaker government that has been in place since Mubarak's ouster. El-Orabi had been viewed by critics as too close to the old regime.

Egypt's state news agency said Sharaf also appointed two new deputies, including prominent economist Hazem el-Biblawi. The 74-year-old was head of the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia. In the new job, he will be in charge of Egypt's economic program. U.S.-educated Ali el-Silmi, 75, was appointed Sharaf's second deputy. He was administrative development state minister in the late 1970s.

Sharaf had come under growing pressure from the protest movement, with critics saying too many of his Cabinet ministers had been Mubarak-era stalwarts. He has promised wider Cabinet reshuffle by Monday.

The tension between protesters and the military council has also increased in recent weeks. Justice for the families of those killed during the uprising has become a rallying cry for those frustrated with lack of change. In response to new protests, Egypt's military authorities have promised a number of measures in the past few days.

The military council said in a statement Saturday that it respects the right to protest and hold sit-ins "as long as it does not harm public and private interests."

But many protesters remain suspicious of the military's promises.

When el-Mahdi arrived in Tahrir Square on Saturday, he was quickly surrounded by activists volunteering as security guards and escorted to a makeshift podium to address the crowd.

"It is important for any revolution that its people live, not die," el-Mahdi said from the stage, saying the hunger strikers should get medical help.

He was booed off the stage and some protesters even raised their shoes, a sign of anger and contempt in the Arab world, said activist Mahmoud Yehia.

"He didn't say anything new. He didn't bring us any news," Yehia said.

Protesters were skeptical about el-Mahdi's attempt to reach out. "He who is burned by soup will blow at the yogurt," said Yehia, using an Egyptian proverb about broken trust. "We won't be fooled again."

Activist Sayed Salem said the protesters were disheartened because they wanted to hear a response to their demands. "They don't want to chat. They want to hear a statement addressed to them which details what will happen and when," said Salem. Not all protesters supported driving the military official out of the square, he said.

Also Saturday, hundreds of protesters held a funeral prayer in the square for the latest victim of the uprising, a man who was wounded Jan.28 and died of his wounds this week. A procession then marched on the public prosecutor's office demanding he resign.