Shake-up in Egypt’s ruling party after top leadership quits

Saturday, February 5, 2011

CAIRO - Egypt’s ruling party announced a major shake-up Saturday with several top leaders resigning - but President Hosni Mubarak showed no signs of relinquishing power despite a 12th straight day of protests.

Gamal Mubarak, the son of the embattled president, resigned from his job as a political head of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), whilst Safwat el-Sherif, left his post of secretary general.

Both were to be replaced by Hossam Badrawi - a member of the NDP and the upper house of parliament, the Shura Council.

But Mubarak himself showed no signs of giving into demands from anti-government protesters, who gathered in central Cairo’s Tahrir Square again Saturday to call for his removal.

Broadcaster al-Arabiya late Saturday retracted an earlier report that Mubarak had resigned his post as chairman of the NDP.

Meanwhile, Western leaders attending the Munich security conference called for an orderly transition to democracy in Egypt.

“There has to be some orderly transition process in place to avoid a total vacuum of power,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke of a “perfect storm” battering the Arab world and invited future Egyptian governments to be inclusive, to successfully move to democracy.

Mubarak’s role in a smooth transition to democracy “remains utterly critical in the days ahead,” said US special envoy to Egypt, Frank Wisner.

While thousands turned up in Cairo to chant against Mubarak, rain and fatigue seemed to be taking a toll on the protesters and reflected in the dwindling numbers present, at least Saturday.

But when General Hassan al Rawini, commander of the Egyptian Army’s central command, urged them to go home, they responded in one voice - they would not leave until Mubarak resigns.

Many protesters slept overnight in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square, camping out in tents and defying a curfew, which entered into effect after dark.

Earlier Saturday, Mubarak met with ministers holding economic portfolios and the head of the central bank, as concerns mounted over the country’s economy. One estimate said Egypt has been hemorrhaging more than $300 million a day for the past week due to the unrest.

Mubarak was being advised to allow for a “dignified exit”, with one option being a shift of power to his newly appointed vice president, Omar Suleiman, and later a group of technocrat ministers, while keeping his titular job as head of state.

An informal grouping of respected Egyptian intellectuals, dubbed locally as the “wise men”, made the proposal Friday, saying they had opened a line of communication with Suleiman, who was responding to their proposals.

Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq doubted the idea would work, however, stressing that Mubarak would not stay beyond the end of his term in September.

Reports in the US media, including The New York Times, indicated that Western officials were also looking for a graceful departure for the president, who has ruled for nearly 30 years.

One suggestion being floated was that he move to his residence in the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, far from the central seat of command in Cairo.

Another option was a relocation to Germany for what would be called extended medical treatment - following the intensive care he has received there in recent years.

“The revolution will not come to an end until this demand (for Mubarak to step down immediately) is met,” said Abdel-Rahman Youssef, a youth activist, who had met with Shafiq.

The premier has been urging both sides to offer “concessions”.

“On our part, we are prepared to talk with everyone,” said Shafiq, adding that this included the banned Muslim Brotherhood, the largest organized opposition group, which was trying to present itself as a moderate force.

“The revolution is a peaceful one which calls solely for reform and a democratic civil state,” said Khaled Hamza, editor of IkhwanWeb, the Muslim Brotherhood’s website. It “is by no means linked to any Islamic tendencies,” he said in a statement.

Hundreds of thousands took part across the country in protests Friday, their so-called “Day of Departure” for Mubarak. The events were mostly peaceful, following two days of heavy clashes between the demonstrators and groups supporting the president earlier in the week.

At least 5,000 people have been injured since the unrest in Egypt began Jan 25, said Health Minister Ahmed Farid. The UN estimates that more than 300 have died, mainly last week, in clashes with police.

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