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Egypt protests: Tahrir Square deaths trigger cabinet's resignation

At least 24 have been killed in fresh Tahrir Square protests against the military junta. The cabinet resigned today, but many say the standoff can be ended only by significant concessions from the military.

By Correspondent / November 21, 2011

Egyptian protesters gather around Tahrir square during the clashes with the Egyptian riot police, unseen, in Tahrir square, Cairo, Monday.

Mohammed Abu Zaid/AP

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Cairo

With Egypt’s first post-Mubarak elections just a week away, a formidable protest movement has triggered the resignation of the country's cabinet. As clashes between security forces and protesters demanding an end to military rule entered a third day today, the toll rose to at least 24 dead and more than 1,000 wounded. The cabinet resignation is unlikely to placate protesters, who demand the end of military rule.

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The atmosphere and determination of the protest movement, anchored in Cairo's Tahrir Square, has become reminiscent of the 18-day uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak in February. Protesters are shouting the same chants, simply replacing Mubarak’s name with that of Egypt’s de facto military ruler, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, and vow to stay put until the military junta hands power over to a civilian government.

The forces demanding action from SCAF come from across the political spectrum, making it unlikely that the council will be able to end the standoff without making considerable concessions.

“The SCAF has lost legitimacy because of their poor performance,” says Ibrahim El Houdaiby, an analyst and researcher. “The only question is how to hand over power promptly, safely, democratically.”

The political chaos in Cairo mirrored the physical chaos on the streets. In mid-evening Al Jazeera reported that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) had accepted the cabinet resignation. At around the same time, Reuters reported that the resignations had not been accepted. The military has looked increasingly overtaken by the fast-moving political events. The killing of protesters on Saturday poured gasoline on the situation, and the generals may be wary of making another dangerous mistake.

Why protesters turned out

The clashes began Saturday when police forcibly dispersed a small group that remained and planned to occupy Tahrir after a large demonstration Friday, organized by Islamist forces, to demand a speed transfer of power to civilian rulers. Thousands responded to the police eviction by flooding Tahrir.

Their numbers swelled after police and the military violently attempted to disperse them Saturday, killing one protester in Cairo and another in Alexandria. The movement turned into an outpouring of anger against the SCAF, which took power after Mubarak stepped down but has continued with much of the repression that led to his downfall. 

Protesters are not only angry at military repression, but express the feeling that nothing has changed since the uprising in January that they hoped would better lives. More than ten thousand protesters have turned out to battle security forces, using rocks and Molotov cocktails against the state's tear gas, rubber bullets, birdshot, and sometimes live bullets.

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s most organized group, called on the military council Monday to withdraw police and military from Tahrir Square and stop the violence, hold accountable those who had killed protesters, and commit to a presidential election date by mid-2012. But it has not urged its members to join the protest, instead calling for calm ahead of elections next week. Other political groups, and Nobel laureate and presidential contender Mohamed ElBaradei, have called for a national unity government to replace the cabinet.

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