Egypt’s military promised Monday night not to fire on any peaceful protests and said it recognised “the legitimacy of the people’s demands” ahead of a demonstration in which organisers aim to bring a million Egyptians to the streets to press for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.
The military statement was the strongest sign yet that the army was willing to let the week-old protests continue and even grow as long as they remain peaceful.
In what is seen as a sop to the protesters, a new cabinet line-up was announced in which widely hated interior minister Habib Al Adly and the previous finance and culture ministers were axed. But protesters massed in Cairo vowed they would only be satisfied when Mubarak quits.
Organisers announced an indefinite general strike and said Tuesday would see a “march of a million” in the capital. Another march was called in the Mediterranean port Alexandria.
Tens of thousands of protesters thronged Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the protests. The army positioned tanks around the area and was checking identity papers but letting protesters in.
The newly-appointed Vice-President Omar Suleiman said Mubarak had asked him to start dialogue with all political forces, including on constitutional and legislative reforms, a key demand voiced by the protesters.
Meanwhile the United States urged President Mubarak to do more than name a new government and sent an envoy to Cairo to reinforce the message.
Former US ambassador to Egypt Frank Wisner was on the ground in Cairo as US officials sought to bring pressure on Mubarak without openly calling on him to step down.
Officials said the Egyptian government needs a path to a credible presidential election in September as part of an orderly transition. Also needed are a lifting of emergency law and negotiations with a broad cross-section of Egyptians, including opposition groups, they said.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Wisner has the opportunity to gain a perspective on what they're thinking and what their ideas are in terms of process that we've clearly called for.
After a weekend in which Mubarak named a new vice president but still clung to power, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said, This is not about appointments, it's about actions.
Obviously there is more work to be done. ... The way Egypt looks and operates must change, Gibbs said.