Government warns of army crackdown as protests rage on

Protesters continue to flock to Cairo's Tahrir Square, 9 February 2011.
Protesters continue to flock to Cairo's Tahrir Square, 9 February 2011. Reuters/Suhaib Salem

Egypt's Foreign Minister warned on Wednesday of a possible army crackdown if anti-government protests continue. The caution comes after a 16th day of demonstrations that saw protesters block the entrance to the Egyptian parliament and thousands of workers join in a nationwide strike.


"If chaos occurs, the armed forces will intervene to control the country, a step which would lead to a very dangerous situation," Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit told Al-Arabiya television.

Dossier: Revolution in Egypt

His comments echoed Vice President Omar Suleiman's warning that abrupt changes to Egypt's political system could lead to "a coup".

Until now, the army has avoided taking action to halt protests, promising that it would not use force against people exercising their "legitimate" right to demonstrate.

Following Gheit's comments, the US State Department called on Egyptian soldiers to "continue to show... restraint".

Gheit also criticised US calls to speed up the transition process, accusing the United States of seeking to impose its will on Egypt.

The government has yet to meet the "minimum threshold" of what Egyptians want, White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs said on Wednesday.

"We believe that more has to be done", Gibbs commented of Vice President Suleiman's proposals for reform.

The panel appointed by President Hosni Mubarak to oversee constitutional changes has agreed to amend six articles in Egypt's constitution, state news agency MENA reported on Wednesday.

The changes do not include the repeal of the emergency laws that have been in place in Egypt since 1981.

The government's efforts have not so far appeased protesters, who were out in force on Wednesday for a 16th day in Cairo and other cities.

In Port Said, protesters stormed a government building and burned the governor's car, while in Assiut people blocked a railway line and major motorway with plank and burning tyres. Meanwhile at least five people were killed and 100 injured when demonstrators clashed with police in the southern town of Kharga.

Some 20,000 factory workers are reported to have taken part in a nationwide strike.

And Mubarak's newly appointed Culture Minister Gaber Asfour resigned from his post on Wednesday, apparently for "medical reasons".

Changes to Egypt's constitution

The following articles in Egypt's constitution will be amended, state media reported on 9 February:

  • Article 76: restricts who can run for president.
  • Article 77: removes limits on how long a president can stay in power.
  • Article 88: covers judicial supervision of elections.
  • Article 93: governs appeals against official results.
  • Article 179: gives the president the right to order a military trial for civilians accused of terrorist acts.
  • Article 189: allows only the president and the speaker of parliament to call for constitutional amendments.

The government has not said whether it will repeal the emergency laws in place in Egypt since 1981.

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