CAIRO — Egyptians on Friday cheered the military's decision to take over the country, despite the fact that the nation's armed forces have propped up every autocratic leader who has ruled here for the past six decades.
It was not immediately clear how long the military would remain in charge or what measures it would take to restore control after a sometimes bloody and tumultuous popular uprising that led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.
Military chiefs have said fair elections will be held as soon as possible. And they have promised to repeal the emergency law that has been used for decades to suppress government critics. The Guardian newspaper in London reports that the military's ruling council is expected to quickly suspend both houses of Parliament and rule with the civilian head of the supreme constitutional court for a transitional period of just a few months.
The military controls much of Egypt's economy, the Wall Street Journal reports, from poultry farms to water companies to real estate, in addition to traditional armaments factories. Most of Egypt's governors are ex-generals. Those business holdings allow the military to maintain a relatively luxurious lifestyle by Egyptian standards. Maintaining those perks is certain to be a priority for any military-guided transition.
Some say Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, the defense minister and now head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that took control of Egypt, is akin to the chief executive of the largest corporate conglomerate in Egypt.
President Barack Obama warned the military council on Friday that it will now have to "ensure a transition that is credible in the eyes of the Egyptian people."
Obama complimented Egypt's military Friday for its restraint during the crisis, but he made clear that the people's revolution would be incomplete unless the military made fundamental changes.
"That means protecting the rights of Egypt's citizens, lifting the emergency law, revising the constitution and other laws to make this change irreversible, and laying out a clear path to elections that are fair and free," he said. "Above all, this transition must bring all of Egypt's voices to the table."
Obama promised to continue American support for Egypt — which gets $1.3 billion in military aid each year, and a comparatively small amount, $250 million of economic aid — but suggested that U.S. support would depend in part on the speed and enthusiasm with which reform took place. He called for an immediate lifting of the emergency laws that allowed Mubarak to silence his opponents.
Information from the Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Independent and Guardian was used in this report.