Conflict & Justice

Egypt's new prime minister addresses Cairo crowd

By Matthew Bell

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On his first full day in his new job, Egypt's new prime minister went to Cairo's Tahrir Square to address thousands of demonstrators. Essam Sharaf told the crowd that he would work to meet their demands. And that he would resign if he fails.

Sharaf already had credibility with the crowds of demonstrators in Tahrir Square. He's an American-educated engineer and former transport minister under former president Hosni Mubarak. Sharaf resigned from the post, went on to be critical of the Mubarak government, and then, joined anti-government demonstrations in Cairo.

When the new prime minister was spotted entering the square today, demonstrator Walid Abdenemizek was delighted. "Very, very, very happy!" he exulted.

Mona Meena is an Egyptian doctor who treated injured demonstrators in Tahrir Square during the worst of the violence last month. She says tens of people died in front of her. She too is supportive of Essam Sharaf as prime minister.

"It's good that the army chose someone who's accepted by the demonstrators," she said. "And it's also good that he's visiting here today."

After a short prayer for those killed and injured in the revolution, the new prime minister made his way through the crowd and onto the stage. Sharaf told the crowd that he gets his legitimacy from them. He vowed to work to realize all of their demands.

The prime minister expressed his condolences to the families of those who were killed and injured during the uprising. Sharaf also spoke on behalf of the military rulers who appointed him, saying that they support change. Then, he was carried away, on the shoulders of demonstrators and Egyptian soldiers.

But for all the euphoria on the square, demonstrators are far from fully satisfied. They're determined to keep up the pressure on Egypt's military rulers. A key demand expressed by demonstrators is for Egypt's much-reviled state security apparatus to be dismantled. This is the network of Mubarak's secret police, notorious for their brutality and abuse of power.

Nonetheless, they celebrated Sharaf's visit to the square. "Nobody was expecting him to come today," said one protester. "But it's something he did voluntarily; to assure the people … that someone is caring about them."

Another protester said it was good for Sharaf to be with the people, because there's still a lot to be done. "We have about 50 percent of our demands that we have achieved now, there is another 50 percent to go."

Egypt's transitional military government has scheduled a referendum on constitutional reform for March 19th. Some Egyptians are calling for a whole new constitution. Others want to amend the existing one. Beyond that, the military council says it wants to hand over power to a civilian government in about six months, or after elections for the presidency and parliament.