By Nangayi Guyson – Cairo – Egypt’s Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq resigned on Thursday and the military asked a former transport minister to form a new government which pro-democracy activists hope will be purged of Hosni Mubarak’s old guard, the army said in a statement on its Facebook page.
Mr Shafiq was appointed days before President Hosni Mubarak was forced out of office following days of anti-government protests. Protesters saw Mr Shafiq as too closely associated to Mr Mubarak’s rule, observers say.
One Shafiq aide said appointing Essam Sharaf prime minister was timed to defuse calls for another mass demonstration on Friday after a first modest reshuffle by Shafiq failed to mollify protesters who want a clean break with the Mubarak era. “This is a shocking and premature resignation. There have been pressures from the streets that he quit,” one of Shafiq’s aides told Reuters, asking not to be identified.
“There was fear of Friday’s protests and how big they may be. He actually wanted to leave before this week as well and does not want to agitate the people,” the aide said.
The Muslim Brotherhood and other political groupings had also been calling for Shafiq and his government to step aside and the army, in an apparent response had vowed to halt any “counter-revolution” from hijacking Egypt’s revolution.
Elections not best for democracy
Nabil Abdel Fattah, a researcher at the al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic studies, said: “Shafiq had to leave because he was a symbol of the old regime and he underestimated the masses of angry revolutionary youth.”
Reform to the constitution will make it much easier for Egyptians to run for the presidency, removing requirements which made it almost impossible for anyone but the ruling party and representatives of weak opposition parties to field candidates.
Some opposition figures are concerned that a rush towards elections is not in the best interests of democratic change. Mubarak’s administration had suppressed opposition groups for decades and they say they need time to regroup.
They say only the Muslim Brotherhood, which was formally banned under Mubarak, is in the position to mount an election campaign, though the group says it will not seek a majority in parliament or the presidency.
A quick election will also suit the remnants of the National Democratic Party, the ruling party which had dominated parliament under Mubarak and whose headquarters on the bank of the Nile were burned down during the revolution.
The military council, which has been running the country since Mr Mubarak stepped down, has previously ordered the government to run the country’s affairs for six months “or until the end of parliamentary and presidential elections” and is also examining constitutional reforms.
On Monday, Egypt issued a travel ban on ousted President Mubarak and his family. Mr Mubarak is believed to be living in his villa in Sharm el-Sheikh, but in poor health, and has not been seen or heard of publicly since stepping down.