Egypt's army vows democratic elections

CAIRO — On the first day of a new era in Egypt following the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in a popular revolution, the country's military caretakers pledged Saturday to pave the way to democratic elections and to uphold all international treaties.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces did not offer a timetable for elections, however, saying only that it would "guarantee the peaceful transition of power in the framework of a free, democratic system which allows an elected civilian power to govern the country."

Seeking to reassure not only Egyptians but also a watchful international community, the army's televised statement gave a nod to the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace accord, a focal point of concern for Israel, the United States and other Western powers following the stunning change of regime in their staunchest Arab ally.

Even as they celebrated their triumph and cleaned up Tahrir Square following 18 days of demonstrations, protesters issued a list of demands of their own, beginning with the dissolution of Mubarak's Cabinet and the parliament elected in a widely discredited election last fall.

A "people's communique," signed by some of the umbrella groups that organized the protests, also called for a transitional civilian government to prepare elections within nine months and for the establishment of a body to draft a new constitution.

The army, Egypt's most respected public institution, won praise from many Egyptians, as well as the Obama administration, for remaining generally neutral during the nearly three weeks of anti-Mubarak protests. But it's led by figures with close ties to the ousted regime, including Defense Minister Mohamed Tantawi, and has been accused by human rights groups of arbitrarily detaining and abusing demonstrators and their supporters.

Protest organizers urged the army to establish a timetable for the return to civilian rule.

"We don't need the military to be a transitional government," said Israa Rashed, a member of the April 6 youth movement. "We just want this government for a very short time. We need a schedule."

Mubarak's abrupt departure Friday after nearly three decades in power — on the heels of a popular revolt that toppled the long-serving president of Tunisia last month — has sent shock waves through the entrenched dictatorships of Arab world.

Egyptians briskly set about cleaning up Tahrir Square, ground zero of the protests that transformed the Arab world's most populous nation and transfixed the world.

Under a brilliant sun, an army of volunteers — working-class laborers, suburban 20-somethings in stylish sunglasses, sprightly schoolchildren shorter than their broomsticks — fanned out across downtown Cairo to sweep trash and wash down streets. Protesters who occupied the square since Jan. 25 began taking down the razor wire, metal sheets and assorted detritus that had formed their barricades, in what felt like the start of a national catharsis.

Some wore signs saying, "Sorry for the disturbance; we're building Egypt."