Bela Szandelszky, Associated Press
CAIRO — The U.S. increased pressure Friday on Egypt's military rulers to hand over power to civilian leaders, and the generals turned to a Mubarak-era politician to head a new government in a move that failed to satisfy the more than 100,000 protesters who jammed Tahrir Square in the biggest rally yet this week.
The demonstrators rejected the appointment of Kamal el-Ganzouri as prime minister, breaking into chants of "Illegitimate! Illegitimate!" and setting up a showdown between the two sides only three days before key parliamentary elections.
The size of the rally and the resilience of protesters in the face of the violence used by security forces in this week's deadly street battles have won back for the movement much of the strength it projected during the 18-day uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak in February.
Showing the sort of resolve from the earliest days of the Arab Spring, the protesters say they will not leave the iconic square until the military rulers led by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi step down and a civilian presidential council is formed to run the country until a new leader is elected.
"They stole our January revolution because we did not agree on who should represent us," said activist Sedeeqah Abu Seadah. "We shouted 'erhal' (leave) but did not shout the name of the person we want."
The military's appointment of el-Ganzouri, its apology for the death of protesters and a series of partial concessions in the past two days suggest that the generals are struggling to overcome the most serious challenge to their nine-month rule, with fewer options now available to them.
Significantly adding to their predicament, the Obama administration brought its position on the crisis in Egypt closer to the protesters' demands, urging the military to fully empower the next interim civilian government.
"We believe that Egypt's transition to democracy must continue, with elections proceeding expeditiously, and all necessary measures taken to ensure security and prevent intimidation," the White House said in a statement.
"Most importantly, we believe that the full transfer of power to a civilian government must take place in a just and inclusive manner that responds to the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people, as soon as possible," it said.
The adjustment in the Obama administration's approach is significant because the Egyptian military, the nation's most powerful institution, has in the past 30 years forged close relations with successive U.S. administrations, receiving $1.3 billion annually in aid. It followed the public U.S. endorsement of the military's original timetable for the transfer of power by late 2012 or early 2013.
The military inadvertently sparked the ongoing unrest by pushing plans for a political "guardianship" role for itself and immunity from civilian oversight even after a new parliament is seated and a new president is elected.
The last straw came when the military ordered the use of force against a small protest in Tahrir Square last weekend and then launched a failed, joint army-police raid to evacuate a larger crowd. Nearly 40 protesters have died in the past week.
The latest crisis has overshadowed Monday's start of Egypt's first parliamentary elections since Mubarak was replaced by Tantawi. The vote, which the generals say will be held on schedule despite the unrest, is now seen by many activists and protesters to be serving the military's efforts to project an image of itself as the nation's saviors and true democrats.
The next parliament is expected to be dominated by Islamists, whose political groups have decided to boycott the ongoing protests to keep from doing anything that could derail the election. However, the outcome of the vote is likely to be seen as flawed given the growing unrest and the suspension by many candidates of their campaigns in solidarity with the protesters.
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