CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt’s public prosecutor moved on to freeze the foreign assets of Hosni Mubarak, the first sign that the deposed president would be held to account by the rulers to whom he handed power 10 days ago.
The prosecutor said in a statement he had asked the Foreign Ministry to use diplomatic channels to request a freeze on foreign assets and accounts held by Mubarak, his wife Suzanne and his two sons, Gamal and Alaa, together with their wives.
Media reports suggested the former president’s wealth may total billions of dollars and some anti-Mubarak protesters accused him of squandering the wealth of the Arab world’s most populous nation, but aides insist he has done nothing wrong.
British Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday became the first foreign leader to visit post-Mubarak Egypt and pushed for an end to emergency law, while refusing to talk to the influential Muslim Brotherhood, a growing political force.
The Brotherhood said on Monday any cabinet reshuffle, designed to placate pro-democracy reformists, must purge the old guard associated with Mubarak.
Egyptian online democracy activists called for a demonstration that they dubbed “Tuesday of Challenge” to demand the removal of the interim government, saying it contained too many old faces.
The downfall of Mubarak in Egypt and uprisings across the region have prompted Western governments to rethink their policies of supporting autocrats, but have also raised concerns about the rise of Islamist groups in their place.
British officials said that Cameron would not speak with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is regarded with suspicion in Washington, is Egypt’s biggest and best organised political grouping and says it wants a democracy with Islamic principles.
It would be a positive sign to meet other, less organised opposition groups than the Brotherhood, to highlight the fact that Islamists are not the only alternative to Mubarak, the British officials said.
Cameron is at the spearhead of a diplomatic initiative to understand the new political landscape after the uprising in this key U.S. ally which has a peace treaty with Israel.
British officials said Cameron would specifically appeal to the military to lift emergency law, the cornerstone of Mubarak’s iron rule and implemented after the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981 by Islamist officers from his army.
The complete disbandment of the current cabinet, mostly appointed by Mubarak, the lifting of emergency law and the freeing of political prisoners are key demands from reformists and activists who toppled Mubarak.
Egypt’s new military rulers, who took over after an 18-day uprising ended 30 years of Mubarak’s rule, have said change in the constitution for elections should be ready soon and hated emergency laws would be lifted before the polls.
“What is so refreshing about what’s been happening, is that this is not an Islamist revolt, this is not extremists on the street, it’s people who want to have the sort of basic freedoms that we take for granted in the UK,” Cameron told reporters.
But highlighting Western fears, he said he wanted to expand security ties with Egypt “in combating extremist terror”.
Cameron’s arrival came hot on the heels of a visit by William J. Burns, U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, who landed earlier on Monday. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is due to arrive in Egypt on Tuesday.
Calling ties between Washington and Cairo strong, Burns said the United States would encourage “the momentum of transition ... Through careful preparations of the elections to the further release of detainees to the lifting of emergency law”.
Egypt has said it would like European Union states to cancel its debts to them but has not made a formal request, the EU’s local delegation said, citing the Egyptian finance minister. There was no official confirmation.
Cameron met Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who now heads the military council that governs Egypt, and offered British help with Egypt’s transition to civilian rule.
The meeting with Tantawi was attended by Lieutenant General Sami Enan, the armed forces chief-of-staff, and other members of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has promised democracy and free elections within six months.
“I think this is a great opportunity to talk to those currently running Egypt to make sure this really is a genuine transition from military rule to civilian rule,” Cameron said.
Uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia have sent shockwaves through the Middle East, threatening entrenched dynasties from Libya to Bahrain. The West has watched with alarm as long-time allies and foes came under threat, urging reform and restraint.
The cabinet spokesman said Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq was still consulting on new ministers to join the government and details published about the changes until now were premature.
“No one offered us any post and had they done so, we would have refused because we request what the public demands that this government quit as it is part of the former regime,” said Essam El-Erian, a senior member of the Brotherhood.
“We want a new technocratic government that has no connection with the old era,” he told Reuters on Monday.
The Brotherhood is represented on a constitutional change committee, a council to protect the revolution and on Monday named its party Freedom and Justice, with echoes of Turkey’s Islamist-rooted Justice and Development (AK) Party.
Uncertainty remains over how much influence Egypt’s military will seek to exert in reshaping a ruling system which it has propped up for six decades, with diplomats saying it is vital to “create an open political space”.
Wary of a clampdown, the Brotherhood took a cautious line early in the protests but has slowly assumed a bigger role. It still treads carefully, saying it will not field a presidential candidate or seek a majority in parliament.
Any sign the army is reneging on its promises of democracy and civilian rule could reignite mass protests on the street.
In moves to appease democracy advocates, authorities said on Sunday they released 108 political prisoners and Shafiq on Monday ordered that streets be renamed to honor some of the 365 “martyrs” who died in the revolt. (Additional reporting by Edmund Blair, Shaimaa Fayed, Marwa Awad, Tom Perry, Dina Zayed, Alexander Dziadosz, Sarah Mikhail and Tom Pfeiffer; Writing by Peter Millership)