CAIRO — Egypt's military rulers took sweeping action to dismantle the autocratic legacy of former President Hosni Mubarak on Sunday, dissolving parliament, suspending the constitution and promising elections in moves cautiously welcomed by pro-democracy protesters.
The caretaker government, backed by the military, said restoring security after the 18-day uprising that ousted Mubarak was a top priority even as labor unrest reflected one of the many challenges of steering the Arab world's biggest nation toward stability and democracy.
Egypt's upheaval was also splintering into a host of smaller grievances, the inevitable outcome of emboldened citizens feeling free to speak up, most of them for the first time.
They even included about 2,000 police, widely hated for brutality and corruption under Mubarak, who marched to the Interior Ministry to demand better pay and conditions. They passed through the protest camp at Tahrir Square, where demonstrators hurled insults at them, calling them "pigs" and "dogs."
Egypt's state news agency said banks will be closed Monday due to strikes and Tuesday for a public holiday. Dozens of employees protested against alleged corruption at the state television building, which broadcast pro-Mubarak messages during the massive demonstrations against his rule.
Mubarak photo taken down
The caretaker government met for the first time, and employees removed a huge picture of Mubarak in the meeting room before they convened.
The crowds in the protest encampment that became a symbol of defiance against the government thinned out Sunday — the first working day since the regime fell. Traffic flowed through the downtown crossroads for the first time in weeks. Troops cleared most of the makeshift tents and scuffled with holdout activists.
The protesters have been pressing the ruling military council, led by Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi, to immediately move forward with the transition by appointing a presidential council, dissolving the parliament and releasing political prisoners. Thousands have remained in Tahrir Square and some want to keep up the pressure for immediate steps by the council such as the repeal of repressive emergency laws that give police broad power.
Hope, uncertainty face Egyptians
As Egypt embarked on its new path — one of great hope but also deep uncertainty — the impact of its historic revolt as well as an earlier uprising in Tunisia was evident in a region where democratic reform has made few inroads.
Yemeni police on Sunday clashed with protesters seeking the ouster of the U.S.-backed president, and opposition groups planned a rally in Bahrain on Monday. Demonstrators have also pushed for change in Jordan and Algeria, inspired by the popular revolt centered in downtown Cairo.
While some protesters said they are willing to give the ruling council a chance to fulfill pledges to move the nation toward democracy, communication between their movement and the military appears to be minimal or non-existent.
'Situation is foggy ...'
"The situation is very foggy right now. It is not clear what is happening," said Mostafa al-Naggar, an associate of Wael Ghonim, the Google executive whose Facebook campaign fueled the protests. He said it was "totally unacceptable" that the caretaker government was full of members of Mubarak's old ruling party.
The 18-member Supreme Council of the Armed Forces allayed some concerns by dismissing the legislature, packed with Mubarak loyalists, and sidelining the constitution, used by Mubarak to buttress his rule. Activists said they would closely watch the military to ensure it does not abuse its unchecked power — something that is clearly starting to make some uneasy.
The caretaker Cabinet, appointed by Mubarak shortly after the pro-democracy protests began on Jan. 25, will remain in place until a new Cabinet is formed — a step expected to happen after elections.