Egyptians in Tahrir Square in Cairo look at a banner covered with photos… (Khaled Elfiqi, European…)
Reporting from Cairo — Egypt fired more than 600 high-ranking police officers Wednesday in a purge aimed at appeasing thousands of antigovernment protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square amid deepening divisions over wiping away the remnants of former President Hosni Mubarak's regime.
The move came on the same day the military council ruling the country announced that parliamentary elections planned for September would be delayed until October or November. The postponement will help new political parties challenge the more experienced Muslim Brotherhood, which was expected to win at least 25% of the seats in parliament.
Secular parties had pressed for a delay, fearing that a parliament heavily influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood's conservative agenda would threaten human rights and religious tolerance. The Islamist organization's reach may be further diminished by new regulations for choosing the 100-member assembly that will draft a new constitution.
The firing of 669 police officers was the biggest reshuffle in the Interior Ministry's history. It includes 505 brigadier generals, 82 colonels and 37 officers charged in the deaths of hundreds of protesters during the weeks-long revolution that overthrew Mubarak on Feb. 11.
The announcement came during the sixth day of demonstrations in Tahrir Square by activists seeking to pressure the interim government to bring Mubarak and members of his regime to justice. The government and military council fear that the return of tents and banners to the square will further disrupt a nation facing labor strikes, a troubled economy and political unrest.
"The firings are to gradually dismantle the police state we used to live in," said Ammar Ali Hassan, head of the Middle East Center for research and political studies. "Protesters have succeeded in forcing security officials and the police into such changes, despite police efforts to keep the system they had before the Jan. 25 revolution."
So far, only one police officer has been found guilty of killing demonstrators last winter. He was sentenced to death. The country is awaiting the trials of Mubarak and former Interior Minister Habib Adli, both of whom have been accused in the deaths of protesters.
Hassan is a news assistant in The Times' Cairo bureau.