Cairo: Egypt`s embattled regime announced Monday a 15 percent raise for government employees in an attempt to shore up its base and defuse popular anger amid ongoing protests demanding President Hosni Mubarak`s ouster.
The Cabinet decision follows earlier promises to investigate election fraud and official corruption as well as an announcement that a detained Google Inc. executive who was one of the most prominent youth organizers would be released later Monday. Wael Ghonim, a marketing manager for the Internet company, was seized by security agents on Jan. 28, three days after the crisis erupted.
The gestures so far have done little to persuade the tens of thousands occupying downtown`s Tahrir Square to end their two-week long protest, leaving the two sides in an uneasy stalemate. The protesters have vowed to stay put until Mubarak steps down, while the regime wants him to stay in office until elections in September.
Newly appointed Finance Minister Samir Radwan said some 6.5 billion Egyptian pounds ($960 million) will be allocated to cover the salary and pension increases, which will take effect in April for the 6 million people on public payrolls.
"We don`t trust him and he`s a liar — he`s made many promises in the past," said Salih Abdel-Aziz, an engineer with a public sector company. "He could raise it 65 percent and we wouldn`t believe him. As long as Mubarak is in charge then all of these are brittle decisions that can break at any moment."
Public sector employees have been a pillar of support for the regime, but their salaries have stagnated in value in recent years as prices have soared, forcing the government to periodically announce raises to quell dissatisfaction.
Following widespread labor unrest in public sector factories in 2008, Mubarak announced a 30 percent increase in prices that appeared to temporarily blunt public anger at the time.
The regime appears confident in its ability for the moment to ride out the unprecedented storm of unrest, and maintain its grip on power, at least until September elections, but it has made a number of moves in response to protesters` demands.
Egypt`s Vice President Omar Suleiman also met several major opposition groups, including the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, for the first time Sunday and offered new concessions including freedom of the press, release of those detained during the protests and the eventual lifting of the country`s hated emergency laws.
Egypt`s state-run news agency reported Monday that Mubarak ordered the country`s parliament and its highest appellate court to re-examine lower-court rulings disqualifying hundreds of ruling party lawmakers for campaign and ballot irregularities that were ignored by electoral officials — possibly paving the way for new elections.
The ruling National Democratic Party won more than 83 percent of the 518 seats in the 2010 parliamentary elections, which were widely condemned as being rigged.
Judicial officials also promised to start the questioning on Tuesday of three former ministers and a senior ruling party official accused of corruption charges after they were dismissed by Mubarak last week. The cabinet reshuffle was intended to placate protesters by removing some of the most hated officials in the government.
The official Middle East News Agency said former Tourism Minister Zuhair Geranah would be questioned Tuesday along with the former ministers of housing and trade.
MENA also reported that the country`s top prosecutor had imposed a travel ban on former Interior Minister Habib al-Adli and froze his bank account.
Meanwhile, the rest of the city enjoyed the most normal weekday routine than on any day since the Jan. 25 start of the unrest.
Banks were open for limited hours along with many shops. The stock market announced it would reopen on Sunday, though schools were still shut for the mid-year holiday. Traffic was returning to ordinary levels in many places and the start of the nighttime curfew was relaxed to 8 p.m.
The US has shifted signals several times as it found itself torn between its longtime ally Mubarak and the desire to see Egypt transformed from autocracy and democracy.
President Barack Obama would not predict whether Mubarak would step down early, noting the Egyptian leader has promised not to seek a new term and to oversee a peaceful transition of power.
"Only he knows what he`s going to do," Obama said Sunday. "The US can`t forcefully dictate, but what we can do is say the time is now for you to start making a change in your country. Mubarak has already decided he`s not going to run again."