An Egyptian pro-democracy activist takes part in a protest rally in Cairo's Tahrir Square
An Egyptian pro-democracy activist takes part in a protest in Cairo's Tahrir Square on July 11. Egyptian parliamentary elections that were scheduled for September have been delayed until October or November, a military official has told the MENA news agency. © Mohamed Hossam - AFP/File
An Egyptian pro-democracy activist takes part in a protest rally in Cairo's Tahrir Square
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Christophe de Roquefeuil, AFP
Last updated: July 14, 2011

Egypt army seeks to defuse tension

Egypt's ruling military council on Wednesday sought to placate an angry protest movement by announcing the sacking of hundreds of police officers and a delay of parliamentary elections.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces -- which took power when president Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February -- has been struggling to contain nationwide protests denouncing the army's handling of the transition.

Hundreds have been camping out in Cairo's Tahrir Square -- the epicentre of protests that toppled Mubarak -- and in the canal city of Suez to demand political change.

Among protesters' key demands are the sacking and trial of all police officers accused of torture or killing protesters and a reform of the interior ministry.

Anger over routine police torture was a driving force behind the January 25 uprising, during which clashes with security forces and Mubarak loyalists left 846 people dead and more than 6,000 injured.

On Wednesday, Interior Minister Mansur Essawy announced the sacking of hundreds of senior police officers in "the biggest reshuffle in the police force's history."

He told reporters that 505 generals and 164 commissioned officers would lose their jobs, which includes those currently on trial for killing protesters during the uprising.

The reshuffle would also seem some officers retire early, some relocated and others promoted, and the hiring of hundreds of new recruits.

He said the move "would pump new blood into the ministry which would ... adhere to the goals and principles of the January 25 revolution."

The military council also said parliamentary elections scheduled for September have been delayed for up to two months.

"It has been decided to hold elections for the People's Assembly and the Shura Council next October or November," MENA state news agency quoted the official as saying, in reference to the lower and upper houses of parliament.

The army had clearly set out a timetable for parliamentary elections in September, followed by the drafting of a constitution and a date then set for presidential elections.

But a debate on whether to delay the elections had been underway for months, with some calling for them to be postponed in order to give new groups more time to get organised.

Early polls are expected to play into the hands of the well-entrenched Muslim Brotherhood, as parties born after the uprising struggle to recruit members.

Some groups had expressed concern that holding elections first would result in the Islamist group having too much influence over the writing of the constitution.

On the other hand, others want to push ahead with elections to have the ruling military council -- which they see as an extension of the old regime -- out of power as soon as possible.

Wednesday's measures received a lukewarm reaction from Cairo's Tahrir Square, where protesters are adamant about pursuing sit-ins until the rest of the revolt's central demands -- including an end to military trials of civilians -- are met.

"It's just theatre," said Hussein Abdul Aziz, 38. "What's important is not to delay the elections; it's to have a new constitution first."

"These announcements are not sufficient," said Naguib Said, 31, who believes "the priority is to have trials for the murderers of the martyrs."

But some welcomed the move as a step forward.

"If the sacking in the police force actually take place, that's good news. Let's hope it will continue," said Mai Khaled, 31.

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