CAIRO – Egypt's ruling military council promised Sunday to reshuffle the Cabinet, hours after the Islamist-dominated parliament suspended sessions to protest the panel's failure to heed repeated calls for the government's dismissal.
Parliament Speaker Saad el-Katatni said he received a call from the ruling generals promising to announce a reshuffle within 48 hours. Although the concession fell short of the parliament's demand for a whole new Cabinet, the speaker said the call restored parliament's "dignity."
The Muslim Brotherhood-led parliament seated three months ago has been demanding it be allowed to form a Cabinet to replace the military-appointed one it accuses of inefficiency. The ruling generals, who have the power to sack the government, have resisted the calls and hinted at times that they won't allow the Brotherhood to dominate the country.
That resistance prompted the suspension of parliament sessions. El-Katatni, a Brotherhood member, announced the suspension after lawmakers spoke in a televised session against the Cabinet and the ruling generals.
"It is my responsibility as speaker of the People's Assembly (parliament) to safeguard the chamber's dignity and that of its members. There must be a solution to this crisis," el-Katatni told lawmakers before he adjourned the session until May 6.
Anger against the country's military rulers also spilled into the streets where a protester was killed late Saturday outside the Ministry of Defense. Protesters clashed for three hours with unidentified assailants supporting the military, throwing rocks, firebombs and glass bottles at each other.
The Cabinet is headed by Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri, a holdover from the era of authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak who was ousted in a popular uprising 14 months ago.
The Brotherhood controls just under half the seats in parliament and the row brings into focus the ambiguity of parliament's actual powers at a time when the ruling generals enjoy near absolute executive powers.
The Brotherhood and the military are already at odds over what was widely seen as an attempt by the Brotherhood-led Islamists in parliament to dominate a 100-member panel that was to draft a new constitution.
A court disbanded the panel and consultations are under way between political parties and the ruling generals over the composition of a new panel.
Egypt's military ruler, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, has hinted in several public comments in recent weeks that the powerful military would not allow the Brotherhood to dominate the country, a response to what is widely seen as the group's hunger for power after 60 years operating illegally and subject to government crackdowns.
The credibility of the Brotherhood was dented when it announced it was fielding a candidate in presidential elections, reversing an earlier decision to stay out of the May 23-24 race. An expected runoff will be held on June 16-17 and a winner will be announced on June 21. The military has promised to hand over power by July 1.
El-Ganzouri, who is in his late 70s, served as prime minister during the 1990s under Mubarak.
Saturday night's clashes took place when the unidentified assailants set upon the protesters.
Neither army troops or police attempted to stop the street battle, witnesses said. They also reported hearing gunshots.
Many of those outside the Defense Ministry were supporters of an ultraconservative Islamist angered by his disqualification from running in next month's presidential election. Hazem Salah Abu Ismail was thrown out of the race because officials ruled his late mother had dual Egyptian-U.S. citizenship in violation of eligibility rules.
Security officials said the dead protester was one of Abu Ismail's supporters. Hospital officials said he died of a gunshot wound to the head.
Demonstrations in Egypt have frequently been attacked by unidentified assailants, particularly protests which are near or outside the Defense Ministry. Rights and pro-democracy activists have blamed the attacks on undercover police, petty criminals on the police payroll, plainclothes army soldiers or supporters of the ousted Mubarak regime.
Mubarak-era generals took over the reins of power when their patron stepped down in February last year. Opposition to their rule has built up after they were blamed for killing protesters, jailing critics and putting at least 10,000 civilians on trial before military tribunals.
They have also launched a systematic campaign to undermine the youth groups credited with Mubarak's stunning ouster, using the state media to portray them as irresponsible and linked to foreign powers.
"Crushing peaceful demonstrations, whether we agree with them or not, is a continuation of a regime that has not been removed yet," Egypt's top reform leader Mohamed ElBaradei wrote on Twitter. "Will we this time see those involved in violence brought to account whether they from inside or outside the regime?"