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Egypt’s ‘Unfinished Revolution’: Military Pledges Faster Shift to Civilian Rule

November 22, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
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JEFFREY BROWN: Throngs of Egyptians swarmed central Cairo again today, and the country’s military rulers appeared to give ground on political reforms. At the same time, violent clashes with security forces continued. At least 29 people have been killed since Saturday.

We begin with a report from Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News in Cairo.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: Through the day and into the night, the crowds here have been growing. Tahrir Square is once again a seething mass of people. Egyptians have already received one remarkable revolution this year. Now they’re going for the double.

And, tonight, it seemed to be working. In a nationwide address, Egypt’s commander in chief appeared on television and promised a presidential election by next June.

FIELD MARSHAL MOHAMED HUSSEIN TANTAWI, Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (through translator): The armed forces represented in the Supreme Council do not aspire to ruling and put the interest of the country above everything.

So the council is ready to surrender responsibility immediately and return to its original task of safeguarding the country. And we are fully prepared to hold a referendum on transferring power immediately to a civilian authority if the people demand it.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: In the square, protesters listened intently on their radios. But, afterwards, this group was still calling for the field marshal’s resignation.

It’s too early to say whether Egypt’s latest crisis is now over. These battles have been raging, not for hours, but for days, protesters throwing stones outside Egypt’s Interior Ministry and then fleeing in retreat. And the heart of the biggest city in the Arab world has been plunged into chaos.

Here on the streets of Cairo, it’s as if the Mubarak revolution had never happened. And the anger at Egypt’s unfinished revolution seems to be growing.

The tear gas is far more toxic than the stuff the police used during February’s revolution. “Made in America,” it says here. But if there’s one lesson from the Arab spring, it’s that violence breeds more violence.

Mohamed Felad (ph) is just 16 and about to throw a Molotov cocktail at police. “We want a civilian government,” he says simply. “We want the military to leave.”

In Cairo, students have been on the front line of the violence, some of them clearly spoiling for a fight. But demonstrations like these are now spreading across Egypt. First, they forced President Mubarak out, and now they have the 76-year-old field marshal who replaced him in their sights.

WOMAN: We will take him to the prison, to Tora prison, as Mubarak. OK? He killed Egyptians, as Mubarak did. There is no difference between Tantawi and Mubarak.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: All day, the injured have been ferried from the front lines on the backs of motorbikes. It’s a human courier service, over a hundred an hour arriving at this makeshift field hospital alone.

And the more casualties, the more others seem determined to take their place. “None of this will stop until the military gives us a specific departure date,” says the man in charge. “The military keep leaving things unclear.”

In a nearby mosque, we found the injured flowing in so fast that the doctors and nurses could barely cope and asked us to leave, trauma, breathing problems, broken bones, children who’d been caught up in angry stampedes either towards or away from the police.

Tonight, Egypt’s generals have set a departure date. Now these protesters must decide when to set theirs.