CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt’s new cabinet met for the first time on Wednesday with security high on its agenda and under attack from the Muslim Brotherhood and others who want it purged of ministers appointed by ousted president Hosni Mubarak.
In preparation for polls that military rulers have promised to hand over power to civilian rule in six months, activists announced the forming of a new political party on Wednesday.
The Brotherhood and other political groups have called for another million-man-march on Friday to fill Cairo’s central Tahrir Square, which was the nerve-centre for opposition to Mubarak’s 30-year iron rule, to call for a new cabinet.
Banned under Mubarak and playing an increasingly active role in Egyptian political life since the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak, the Brotherhood wants the lifting of emergency law, freeing of political prisoners and a purge of the cabinet.
The cabinet will discuss security issues in the post-Mubarak era and the provision of basic foods and subsidies on Wednesday, political sources said. Despite political pressure, there are unlikely to be further changes in the cabinet, they added.
Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that is running the Arab world’s most populous nation, swore in 10 new ministers on Tuesday, some who had opposed Mubarak, but key portfolios were unchanged.
“The main ministries of defence, justice, interior and foreign remain unchanged, signalling Egypt’s politics remain in the hands of Mubarak and his cronies,” senior Brotherhood member Essam el-Erian told Reuters, reacting to the new line-up.
In the run-up to presidential and parliamentary elections, a committee is amending the constitution to dismantle the apparatus that propped up Mubarak’s rule and political parties are being registered ahead of the polls.
A former diplomat, Abdallah Alashaal, was quoted by MENA news agency on Wednesday as saying he was setting up a new political party “Egypt the Free” to participate in the polls.
“The establishment of the party comes within the framework and desire to make a real representation of the youth of January 25 revolution during the coming period,” Alashaal said.
The Brotherhood and youth groups are anxious that the emergency law, imposed after the assassination of Anwar Sadat by Islamist soldiers from his army in 1981, be lifted but some Cairo residents were not so sure.
“For now, they shouldn’t cancel the emergency law because there are thousands and thousands of thugs out there but ultimately, yes, they have to remove it because police were mistreating lot of people through it,” Somaya Mohamed, a retiree, told Reuters on Wednesday.
“I don’t see anything wrong with the politics of (prime minister) Ahmed Shafiq, he has a white track record,” he said, adding: “I think the youth is simply against anything that the president said that’s all, they wanted to put an end to him and whatever he said.”
Another priority facing the cabinet is getting the nation back to work and to stop the protests and strikes that have damaged an economy that had already been damaged by the turmoil of the revolution which erupted on January 25.
The Egyptian stock market, which closed two days after the uprising started, has announced that it will stay shut until next week.
Writing by Peter Millership