by our Arab Affairs correspondent

THE EGYPTIAN military has called for calm following the forced resignation of President Hosni Mubarak last week. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that now runs the country has dissolved parliament and suspended the constitution.

They’ve called for an end to all protests and strikes and a retired judge has been appointed to head a committee set up to suggest constitutional changes and report back within 10 days.

The generals, whose vote of no confidence finally forced Mubarak to step down, have been supported across the spectrum of Egyptian political life, ranging from bourgeois liberals to the Muslim Brothers, Nasserists and communists.

Rifaat Said, the leader of the Nasserist National Progressive Unionist Party (Tagammu) congratulated the role played by the youth of Egypt in forcing Mubarak out. He also praised the army council for behaving “in a balanced way and that’s encouraging”.

Tagammu, the movement founded by veteran Free Officer Khaled Mohieddin in 1976, is a socialist party that calls for the restoration of gains made during the Nasser era and it won five seats in the semi-rigged general elections last year.

It has joined other opposition parties including the Muslim Brotherhood and the Wafd (Delegation) party to form a steering committee to negotiate with the army council over the formation of a transitional government and a presidential council.

In the meantime the queue of presidential hopefuls is growing. Mohamed ElBaradei, the lawyer and former United Nations atomic energy chief, who was the favourite of the liberal bourgeoisie during the uprising, now faces a serious challenge from Amr Moussa, a former foreign minister who has been Secretary-General of the Arab League since 2001.

Amr Moussa openly supported the anti-Mubarak protests, joining demonstrators in Liberation Square during the height of the rising. His term of office runs out in March and he formally threw his hat into the ring this week saying he will devote the coming months to his presidential campaign.

higher wages

Though the big crowds have now left Liberation Square, pro-democracy protests and demonstrations in support of strikers demanding higher wages continue. The armed forces and their red-beret military police now trying to impose some order in Cairo still enjoy immense respect on the street but there is considerable distrust of the generals, who are all Mubarak trustees.

They have not ordered a wholesale purge of the old dictator’s corrupt cronies but have confined themselves, so far, to simply dismissing two senior police security chiefs who were responsible for ordering deadly force against during the uprising.

Egyptian employers are calling on the army to crack down on the unions to halt the wave of strikes sweeping the country following the downfall of the Mubarak regime.

Mohamed Said Hanfy, head of the Chamber of Metallurgical Industries, said his members, which include leading heavy industrial firms, were forced to operate at between 20 and 50 per cent of capacity and employ extra security to protect stocks which are piling up.

“The army must use stronger language to the people. A lot of them don’t have a problem but want to seize the opportunity presented by the political situation,” he said.

They all say that. But Egyptian workers have many problems, starting with low pay and poor conditions accepted in the past by tame union officials who were tools of the Mubarak government.

This week over 500 union activists picketed the HQ of the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) to demand its dissolution, chanting slogans calling for the right to conduct peaceful labour strikes, the trial of ETUF leaders, and the right to establish independent unions. The federation consists of 24 general unions, 22 of which are headed by supporters of the former dictator.

“The federation is a den of thieves; the federation is a group of thugs,” protesters chanted. Some tried to storm the building but they were beaten back by security guards.

Egypt has asked the United States, Britain and France to freeze the assets of a number of members of the old regime though apparently not those belonging to the Mubarak family. Switzerland said it has already frozen assets that may belong to the hated former dictator, whose ill-gotten gains are put at between $20 and $70 billion deposited in European, American and Saudi banks.

No one knows exactly where Mubarak is these days. Officially he’s retired to a heavily-guarded villa in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheikh on the Sinai Peninsula.

Others say he’s under military protection at an army base on the Red Sea, while one Israeli paper claims that the former dictator has fled to Israel and he’s now living just across the border in a luxury hotel in the port of Eilat.