Egyptian Finance Minister Hazem el-Beblawi has resigned from the interim government in the aftermath of the killing of Christians by the police. The shooting has sent shockwaves throughout the country and the world., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
October 11, 2011
Egypt’s Finance Minister Resigns
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK and HEBA AFIFY
New York Times
CAIRO — Egypt’s finance minister resigned Tuesday in protest over the killing of two dozen unarmed Coptic Christian protesters by the security forces, as reverberations from the outburst of violence two days ago continued to shake Egypt’s interim government.
The finance minister, Hazem el-Beblawi, who also held the title of deputy prime minister, said in an interview on a privately owned television network that “the government failed in its main responsibility, which is to provide security, and it should at least acknowledge its failure to give this issue the effort it needed and apologize.”
Mr. Beblawi’s resignation, after just three months on the job, is the latest blow to Egypt’s economy at a time when it is suffering from labor unrest and a loss of tourist revenue after the revolution that ousted President Hosni Mubarak eight months ago.
Mr. Beblawi’s departure follows growing calls for a broader shake-up of the military-led government, and it was the first indication that public anger over the killings — the most severe violence since the revolution and a stark departure from the military’s usually hands-off approach to public protests — had penetrated the highest levels of the government.
In his interview, Mr. Beblawi, 74, a Muslim, said the top military officials now ruling Egypt had tried to reject his resignation, fearing that it would further harm the sputtering economy.
“They are afraid of the results, that the country can’t take it now,” he said, adding that he felt psychologically unable to keep working.
Essam Sharaf, the interim prime minister, also offered his resignation to the ruling council, but it was not accepted. A statement on the cabinet’s Web site said that Mr. Beblawi’s resignation was “still being reviewed.”
New evidence emerged Tuesday night confirming reports that Egyptian soldiers drove over protesters with armored vehicles and fired live ammunition into a crowd of unarmed Coptic Christians in Cairo on Sunday night. The demonstrators were protesting about a recent attack on a church in southern Egypt.
Khaled Ali, a human rights advocate working with the families of 17 of those who were killed, said in a television interview on Tuesday night that autopsies found that 7 died of gunshot wounds and 10 were crushed to death by vehicles.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the Egyptian foreign minister, the State Department said in a statement, “to convey our deep concern about the violence that occurred over the weekend.”
The State Department said that Mrs. Clinton “reiterated the need for the Egyptian government to ensure that the fundamental rights of all Egyptians are respected, including the rights of religious freedom, peaceful assembly, and the end of military trials for civilians, and that efforts be made to address sectarian tensions.”
The Egyptian military has offered condolences to the victims but has taken no responsibility for the deaths. The military has asked Mr. Sharaf to initiate an investigation.
Although Mr. Sharaf was initially appointed as the choice of Egypt’s protest movement, his acquiescence to the ultimate authority of the military council has cost him much of his credibility, and in the aftermath of the killings a growing chorus of political figures called for his resignation.
Egypt’s largest independent newspaper, Al Masry al-Youm, declared in a front-page editorial on Tuesday that the clash was the breaking point for both Mr. Sharaf and the interim government.
“The state lost its prestige, the regime is about to fall apart, and Sharaf’s government doesn’t have any credit anymore; the only thing they have left is the dignity of resignation,” the editorial said. “In transitional periods, good intentions, gullible smiles and seeking the consent of the presidential military council are not enough.”
In contrast, a state-run newspaper, Al Ahram, alone among the major Egyptian papers, devoted its front page to positive steps Mr. Sharaf was taking to address what it called “the incident,” including strengthening antidiscrimination laws.
The newspaper’s front page also reported on the hanging Monday morning of a Muslim man convicted of murdering six Christians and one Muslim in a shooting at a Coptic Church service nearly two years ago.
The timing of the execution, as thousands of angry Coptic Christians in Cairo prepared to bury those killed the night before, recalled what human rights activists had long described as a pattern by the Mubarak government of using its criminal justice system to placate Egyptians angry over episodes of sectarian strife, often without an open investigation or an airing of the facts.
Tapping into the deep resentment here of American military interventions in the region, several news outlets publicized false reports that Mrs. Clinton had offered to send American troops to Egypt to protect Coptic Christian churches. The American Embassy, which denied the rumors on its Web site on Monday, said in a statement on Tuesday that “the conversation never took place.”
The resignation of Mr. Beblawi, an economist, comes as he was reported to be renegotiating a loan from the International Monetary Fund that Egypt had previously rejected, another sign of the nation’s decaying economy.
Friends called Mr. Beblawi a principled liberal who had long advocated justice and democracy. “Everyone, governed and governor, is subject to the rule of law, free from arbitrariness and whims,” he wrote in 2009. “The law defines the scope and limits of activity and guarantees respect for commitments.”
Steven Lee Myers contributed reporting from Washington.