Egypt’s military rulers appointed a new prime minister on Friday, days before the first parliamentary elections of the post-Mubarak era are scheduled to occur there.
Tens of thousands continue to rally against the generals’ interim government in central Cairo nevertheless although the protest movement appears less widespread than was the case in February when longtime president Hosni Mubarak was forced to relinquish power to the military. Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians took to the streets then day after day to demand his resignation.
In a televised address on Tuesday, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that has ruled Egypt for nine months, insisted that the military did not seek political power and that elections would happen on Monday as planned.
“The army is ready to go back to the barracks immediately if the people wish that through a popular referendum, if need be,” the septuagenarian army commander and defense minister added.
In an attempt to appease the protesters, Tantawi asked Kamal Ganzouri to lead an interim government “of national salvation.”
An economist by training, Ganzouri was popular as prime minister during the late 1990s for his anti-poverty and land reclamation policies but his appointment is unlikely to satisfy the young Cairene activists who want a clean break from the leadership of the past.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist opposition party that was banned during the Mubarak regime, is poised to perform well in the upcoming vote. It has avoided friction with the ruling military council and refused to support this week’s uproar in Tahrir Square which, increasingly, ordinary Egyptians regard warily as well.
The Brotherhood faces opposition from rival Islamist parties and liberals and is challenged by internal dissent. It is difficult to predict how well it will do in the election. After years of rigged polls that ensured crushing wins for Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, voters on Monday face a wide spectrum of mostly unfamiliar new parties. The Brotherhood enjoys high name recognition but young and urban Egyptians fear that it might diminish their nation’s secular institutions in favor of more religious policy.
The group has been ambiguous about its objectives with some leaders claiming to champion the Turkish model of an Islamist party governing in secular fashion and others advocating adherence to strict and traditional Muslim values which could see alcohol banned and dress codes for women imposed.
Egypt’s tourist industry, which last year accounted for more than 11 percent of gross domestic product, has grind to a standstill by the revolution and doesn’t particularly welcome the prospect of an oppressive religious environment that could keep Western vacationers away.