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Police, Protesters Reach Fragile Truce in Egypt; Elections to Proceed as Planned

November 24, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
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JEFFREY BROWN: A fragile truce between police and protesters held in and around Cairo’s Tahrir square today as the military government apologized for the deaths of at least 39 protesters over five days of violence. It was also announced that parliamentary elections will begin as planned on Monday and that a new prime minister was appointed.

Kamal Ganzouri previously held that post for four years under deposed President Hosni Mubarak.

We have a report from Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: Cleaning up after a fifth night of violence, downtown Cairo still in shock after the worst outbreak of fighting since February’s revolution.

These protestors now want a second revolution. They still want to topple Egypt’s military rulers. Yet, ironically, it’s the army which is now safeguarding a truce between the people and the riot police.

The army has built a wall across the street and it’s turning on top of it. It’s keeping the protesters away from the police. And if this uneasy peace can be kept, elections in the most populous country in the Arab world are due to start on Monday.

Last night, the violence spread to the city of Ismailia. Yet an army spokesman said today that the protestors don’t represent all Egyptians, that elections should go ahead, so the army can give up running the country.

GEN. MUKHTAR AL-MULLA, Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (through translator): I ask the honorable Egyptian people that love their country to concentrate on the goals and not the slogans and the demonstrations. We should concentrate on the first goal: the elections.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: The army has also apologized for the killing of protestors. It’s promised an investigation and says it wasn’t involved.

Yet even if that’s true, Egyptians are asking why it took so long to rein in the police. And in Tahrir Square this afternoon they were still chanting for the country’s military commanders to step down now. It’s mostly a young crowd here, and many are unemployed. For them, the army’s apology has come too late.

WOMAN (through translator): It’s too late to say sorry. We want a civilian government with justice and freedom. The simplest of all human rights.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: Yet travel out towards the pyramids at Giza, and you find many Egyptians who say these protests have done more harm than good.

Tourism is a mainstay of the economy and it’s down 60 percent this year. And without the army the fear is of chaos nationwide.

“I’m not with Tahrir Square at all,” says this man. “This talk of the military stepping down is very irresponsible.”

“The army has to stay,” says another. “If the army leaves, we will have nobody else.”

What’s more: Egypt’s biggest political bloc, the Muslim Brotherhood, is on the brink of power for the first time if elections go ahead. So, perhaps it’s no surprise that the local candidate and his party have refused to join this weeks protests.

AMR DARRAG, Muslim Brotherhood parliamentary candidate: We are all not happy about the performance of the military. We are– we are all in agreement that the real objectives of the revolution are not met at all. But the only way out, the only peaceful way out, is to have the elections and to have a parliament elected to the represent the people.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: On these streets, those elections seem almost irrelevant. The protestors have been radicalized by days of bloodshed. And you feel it wouldn’t take much for these smoldering streets to flare up again.

JEFFREY BROWN: There was also word today that a court in Egypt had ordered the release of three American college students arrested amid the protests. But there was no confirmation that they’d been let go.