Egypt military taps Mubarak crony as new PM

Egyptian Prime Minister, Kamal el-Ganzouri, arriving at Itahadia Palace to be sworn into office, in this file photo dated Jan. 4, 1996.
file,AP Photo/Mohamed El Dakhakhny
Updated at 6:56 a.m. Eastern.

CAIRO - Egyptian state television said Friday the nation's ruling military council had asked a Mubarak-era prime minister to head the next government.

Kamal el-Ganzouri, 78, served as prime minister in the 1990s under President Hosni Mubarak, toppled in a popular uprising in February. The Friday television announcement followed a meeting between el-Ganzouri and military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi the night before.

El-Ganzouri will replace Essam Sharaf, who resigned this week amid deadly clashes between police and protesters calling for the military to immediately step down.

El-Ganzouri's appointment is likely to stoke the anger among protesters, already seething over the military's perceived reluctance to dismantle the legacy of Mubarak's 29-year rule.

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CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reports that the protest movement was calling for a another "million-man march" on Friday, demanding the military give up power immediately to a caretaker civilian government. El-Ganzouri's appointment does little to even address that demand, as he was hand-picked by the military council and will symbolically represent the Mubarak regime in the minds of many protesting in the streets.

The military council has rejected protester demands for them to step down immediately and say they will start the first round of parliamentary elections on time next week, despite serious unrest in Cairo and other cities.

The military insisted it is not the same as the old regime it replaced, but the generals appear to be on much the same path that doomed president Hosni Mubarak nine months ago — responding to the current crisis by delivering speeches seen as arrogant, mixing concessions with threats and using brutal force.

So far it's working no better than it did under the former leader.

The Obama administration, meanwhile, voiced renewed support Friday for restive Egyptians demanding a smoother, speedier transition to democracy following Mubarak's fall from power.

The White House press office said in a statement that the United States "will continue to stand with the Egyptian people as they build a democracy worthy of Egypt's great history."

The White House says the United States "strongly believes that the new Egyptian government must be empowered with real authority immediately." And it notes that Washington condemns "the excessive use of force" against the protesters.

Protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square say they will not leave the iconic plaza until the generals step down in favor of a civilian presidential council, a show of resolve similar to that which forced Mubarak to give up power in February after nearly three decades.

The appointment of el-Ganzouri, regardless of the military's insistence he will have total power, is a clear sign that the council intends to try and ride out the protests and remain in control of the vast nation through the upcoming elections.

"What we want to hear is when they are leaving," said Tahrir protester Khaled Mahmoud on hearing of an apology offered by the military for the deaths of nearly 40 protesters since Saturday. "The ouster of the marshal is only a matter of time," he added, referring to Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, who was Mubarak's defense minister for 20 years before he succeeded him in February.

"There will be no postponement in the election," said Maj. Gen. Mamdouh Shaheen, one of two members of the ruling military council who spoke at a televised news conference on Thursday. "The election will be held on time with all of its three stages on schedule."

The two generals said the throngs in Tahrir do not represent the whole of Egypt and warned of chaos if the council was to immediately step down, language similar to Mubarak's scare-mongering while trying to cling to power in the face of the 18-day uprising against his rule.

The two generals — Shaheen and Maj. Gen. Mukhtar el-Malla — also said that parliamentary elections would start on time Monday and that a new prime minister to replace Essam Sharaf would be picked before the vote.

News reports that were not yet officially confirmed said Kamal el-Ganzouri, who served as prime minister under Mubarak in the 1990s, has been approached by the military as a possible candidate for prime minister. State television showed footage of el-Ganzouri meeting with Tantawi. If confirmed, el-Ganzouri would replace Essam Sharaf, whose government resigned this week.

Tahrir Square, meanwhile, was quieter Thursday after five days of intense clashes. Police and protesters agreed to a truce negotiated by Muslim clerics at the scene. At the same time, soldiers built barricades from metal bars and barbed wire to separate the protesters and the police on streets-turned-battlefields leading from Tahrir to the nearby Interior Ministry.

Protesters formed a series of human chains on the those streets to prevent anyone from violating the truce or approaching flashpoint areas close to the police lines. The truce came into force around 6 a.m. and was holding by nightfall.

The two generals from the ruling council who spoke attempted a revision of recent history to fend off calls for the military to step down.

They said their legitimate claim to power came when troops were warmly welcomed by Egyptians at the time they took over the streets from the discredited police early in the anti-Mubarak uprising. The legitimacy of their rule was reinforced by the overwhelming endorsement Egyptians gave to constitutional amendments they proposed and put to a referendum in March, they said.

"Consequently, it will be a betrayal of the people's trust if the military council was to relinquish power now," Shaheen said. "History will not kindly remember that."