President Hosni Mubarak last night named aviation minister Ahmed Shafiq as his new prime minister, while his intelligence chief Omar Suleiman was named vice president, despite ongoing protests against his regime.
Earlier, protesting Egyptians had jubilantly climbed on top of army tanks and armoured personnel carriers enforcing security in Cairo. In Tahrir Square, protesters hoisted an army officer waving an Egyptian flag on to their shoulders and chanted, "The people and the army are one hand together!" It was not clear if the unrest still surging in Cairo and around the country would end up pushing the army to abandon either its easygoing stance, or its loyalty to the regime.
The army has enjoyed the respect of citizens who perceive it as the country's least corrupt and most efficient public institution, particularly compared to a police force notorious for heavy handedness and corruption. It is touted as having defeated Israel in the 1973 Middle East War, and revered for that role.
The military, for its part, sees itself as the guarantor of national stability and above the political fray, loyal to both the government and what it sees as the interests of the general population.
Protesters yesterday hugged and kissed the soldiers and posed for photographs with them. They spray-painted military vehicles with slogans demanding the ousting of Mubarak. Some soldiers stood by and watched as looters sat upon supermarkets, police stations and nightclubs.
But the army will soon have to enforce order on the streets and that, in turn, would risk the goodwill of some protesters. That shift was already evident yesterday, when it warned it would deal harshly with "violators" and strongly advised against breaching the night-time curfew.
Meanwhile, the EU has urged Mubarak to end the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators and release all political prisoners. In what appeared to be a bid to distance the bloc from Mubarak's regime, EU President Herman Van Rompuy said that the EU was "deeply troubled" by the spiral of violence in Egypt.
Van Rompuy said he hoped Mubarak's promises of reform "will translate into concrete action".