The US increased pressure on Egypt’s military rulers to hand power to civilian leaders.
The generals turned to a Mubarak-era politician to head a new government in a move that failed to satisfy more than 100,000 protesters who jammed Tahrir Square in the biggest rally this week.
The demonstrators rejected the appointment of Kamal el-Ganzouri as prime minister, setting up a showdown between the two sides only three days before key parliamentary elections.
The protesters say they will not leave the square until the military rulers, led by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, step down and a civilian presidential council is formed to run the country until a new leader is elected.
The military’s appointment of el-Ganzouri, its apology for the death of protesters and a series of partial concessions in the past two days suggest that the generals are struggling to overcome the most serious challenge to their nine-month rule.
Adding to their predicament, the Obama administration urged the military to empower the next interim civilian government.
“We believe that Egypt’s transition to democracy must continue, with elections proceeding expeditiously, and all necessary measures taken to ensure security and prevent intimidation,” the White House said.
“Most importantly, we believe that the full transfer of power to a civilian government must take place in a just and inclusive manner that responds to the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people, as soon as possible,” it said.
The Obama administration’s approach is significant because the Egyptian military, the nation’s most powerful institution, has in the past 30 years forged close relations with the US, receiving US$1.3 billion ($1.75 billion) annually in aid.
It followed the public US endorsement of the military’s original timetable for the transfer of power by late 2012 or early 2013.
The choice of el-Ganzouri deepened the anger of the protesters as they moved from Tahrir Square to began a sit-in outside the headquarters of the Cabinet, a few blocks away, vowing to prevent el-Ganzouri from entering.
“The military council must go,” the crowd chanted, “military men must not rule.”
The protest movement launched an attempt to unify its demands and present an alternative to el-Ganzouri. Twenty-four protest groups announced they creating their own “national salvation” government.
They said it would be headed by a presidential council led by Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei with deputies from across the political spectrum to which they demanded the military hand over power.
Addressing a news conference, el-Ganzouri said the military has given him greater powers than his predecessor, Essam Sharaf, who was installed by the military months ago and has been criticised as a facade for the council of generals.
El-Ganzouri insisted he wouldn’t have accepted the job if he believed Tantawi had any intention of staying in power.