Posted: 19 Feb 2011 07:09 PM PST
CAIRO,A court yesterday approved a new political party that had sought a licence for 15 years, making it the first to be recognised since Hosni Mubarak's overthrow and illustrating the political earthquake shaking the new Egypt.
In a move to placate reformists and strikers and distance itself from the Mubarak regime, the interim government will change up to four ministers in a limited cabinet reshuffle, an Egyptian official was quoted by state media as saying.
The Wasat Party (Centre Party) had tried to gain an official licence four times since 1996, but each time its application was rejected by a political parties committee chaired by a leading member of the ruling party, a procedure that stifled opposition.
"The court ruled that the party was established and legitimate as of today," Egypt's news agency said of Wasat, set up by a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood and which wants to fuse a respect for Islamic society with democracy.
That means the Wasat Party can take part in elections that the military has promised to hold within six months, and its founder Abou Elela Mady said that it had been powered by "the winds of freedom that blew with the revolution".
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which took over in Egypt after the momentous downfall of Mubarak, 82, dissolved parliament and suspended the constitution to amend it ahead of the elections.
"The current unstable political conditions do not permit a new constitution," said the official quoted by state media, referring to turmoil in the Arab world's most populous nation that followed anti-Mubarak protests that started on January 25.
The amendments are expected to be completed in the coming days and will be submitted to a referendum, a judge on the committee dealing with the changes said.
Egypt's military this weekend warned workers using their new-found freedom to protest over pay that strikes must stop, in a move that businessmen said yesterday could have come sooner.
Workers cite a series of grievances. What unites them is a new sense of being able to speak out in the post-Mubarak era.
Carrot and stick
Under pressure from activists to speed up the pace of reform by lifting emergency law and freeing political prisoners, the military had adopted a softly-softly approach since taking over but is now saying labour unrest threatens national security.
The state of emergency should be lifted within six months, the official told state media.
The military issued the order, effectively banning strikes and industrial action, after millions celebrated across Egypt with fireworks, dancing and music to mark a week since Mubarak stepped down after 30 years.
"Though this statement should have come way earlier, I think the army was just allowing people to take their chance to voice their demands and enjoy the spirit of freedom," Walid Abdel-Sattar, a power industry executive, said yesterday.
"It's Not The Time For It," the banner headline in the state-owned Akhbar Elyom newspaper said yesterday, urging the nation to end work stoppages that it said were paralysing the economy and losing Egypt revenue.
Banks, which have been closed this week because of strikes that have disrupted business, are due to open today, the first day of the working week in Egypt. The military believes this is an important step towards restoring normality.
Life is far from normal in Egypt after the 18-day uprising, with schools closed, tanks on the streets in major cities and nationwide public-sector strikes. The curfew, which runs from midnight to 6 am, is to be lifted shortly.
In a sign of economic nervousness, Egypt's stock exchange, closed since January 27 because of the turmoil, said it would remain shut until it was sure banks were functioning properly.
Nine airlines cancelled flights to and from Egypt's capital yesterday, Cairo airport officials said. The unrest prompted foreign embassy travel warnings, hitting tourism.
The military council has yet to abolish the political parties law used by the Mubarak administration to control every aspect of political life.
Islamic society and democracy
Mady broke away from the Muslim Brotherhood in the mid-1990s because of what he said were its "narrow political horizons".
His first attempt at founding the Wasat Party landed him and others in a military court, accused of trying to set up a party as an Islamist front. Mady drew criticism from the Brotherhood, which said he was trying to split the movement.
The Brotherhood, which Washington regards with suspicion, is the biggest political group in Egypt and says it would win 30 per cent of votes in an election.
In an interview with Reuters this week, Mady likened his party's ideology to that of Turkey's ruling AK Party, which has roots in political Islam but appeals to a wider electorate, including the secular middle class and religious conservatives. — Reuters
Posted: 19 Feb 2011 06:37 PM PST
Anti-government demonstrators in Bahrain swarmed into Pearl Square in Manama yesterday, putting riot police to flight in a striking victory for their cause and confidently setting up camp for a protracted stay.
In Libya's eastern city of Benghazi, a witness told Reuters snipers had fired at protesters from a fortified compound.
"Dozens were killed . . . not 15, dozens. We are in the midst of a massacre here," said the resident, who did not want to be named. The man said he helped take the victims to a local hospital during the violence yesterday.
The Libyan authorities have not allowed foreign journalists into the country since the protests against Gaddafi erupted, and the witness's account could not be independently verified.
Human Rights Watch says 84 people have been killed in Libya since the protests began, the death toll a reflection of the ferocity of the security crackdown mounted in response to anti-government protests that sought to emulate uprisings in neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia.
Unrest has spread from those two countries, whose leaders were toppled, to Bahrain, Libya, Yemen, Oman, Kuwait and Djibouti as people take to the streets demanding political and economic change.
Anti-government protests met varying degrees of force in Yemen, Algiers and Djibouti, while an Egyptian court approved a new party in a landmark ruling. Authorities in Saudi Arabia detained activists trying to set up the kingdom's first political party.
In Libya, the violence was concentrated around Benghazi, 1,000km east of the capital, where support for Gaddafi traditionally has been weaker than in the rest of the country.
There was no sign of a nationwide revolt, but Twitter was abuzz with talk of unrest in towns other than Benghazi. Reports ranged from the use of mercenaries and aircraft to mortars and artillery against protesters, but with foreign media banned from entering the country, they were impossible to verify.
Internet service has been cut off in Libya, but local Muslim leaders called for an end to the violence.
"This is an urgent appeal from religious scholars (faqihs and Sufi sheikhs), intellectuals, and clan elders from Tripoli, Bani Walid, Zintan, Jadu, Msalata, Misrata, Zawiah, and other towns and villages of the western area of our beloved Libya to all of humanity, to all men and women of goodwill," they said in an appeal to Reuters.
The Benghazi witness told Reuters security forces had set up a 50-metre perimeter around their "command centre" and fired at anyone approaching it.
He said people were killed after protesters tried to break into the compound command. Another resident earlier said the security forces were confined to the compound.
The resident said the violence was beginning to hurt food supplies. Italy's Ansa news agency quoted an Italian witness there as saying the city was "completely out of control".
"All the government and institutional buildings and a bank have been burnt, and the rebels have ransacked and destroyed everything. There's no one on the streets, not even the police," said the witness, who declined to be identified.
The government has not released any casualty figures or made any official comment on the violence.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague urged Libya to stop using force against protesters, calling it "unacceptable and horrifying", and asked Middle Eastern governments to respond to the "legitimate aspirations" of their people.
The unrest has helped drive up oil and gold prices.
Analysts say that Gaddafi, unlike the Egyptian leadership, has oil cash to smooth over social problems, and is respected in much of the country.
In Bahrain, a key US ally and home to the US Fifth Fleet, thousands of protesters celebrated as they poured into Pearl Square after riot police pulled out.
"We don't fear death any more, let the army come and kill us to show the world what kind of savages they are," said Umm Mohammed, a teacher wearing a black abaya cloak.
Bahrain's government said it had opened a dialogue with opposition groups demanding reform. The crown prince called for a national day of mourning for the six people killed in this week's protests and appealed for calm.
He had earlier announced that all troops had been ordered off the streets — meeting one of the conditions for talks set out by a former lawmaker of the main Shi'ite opposition bloc Wefaq.
The Sunni Muslim Al-Khalifa dynasty rules Bahrain, but the Shi'ite majority has long complained about what it sees as discrimination in access to state jobs, housing and health care.
The United States and top oil producer Saudi Arabia see Bahrain as a bulwark against neighbouring Shi'ite Iran.
In Egypt, a court approved the Wasat Party (Centre Party), the first new party to be recognised since President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown this month, and an official said there would soon be a limited cabinet reshuffle.
In Yemen, one protester was killed and seven were hurt in clashes with supporters of President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa.
Riot police in Algiers meanwhile prevented some 500 protesters marching in through the city centre.
The uprisings sweeping through the region also reached the tiny Horn of Africa state of Djibouti, where three leading opposition politicians were detained yesterday in a move to quash anti-government protests.
Djibouti, a former French colony between Eritrea and Somalia, hosts France's largest military base in Africa and a major US base. Its port is used by foreign navies patrolling busy shipping lanes off the coast of Somalia to fight piracy. Unemployment runs at about 60 per cent. — Reuters
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