Egypt’s embattled government has tried to buy its way back into favour with a 15% pay rise for state employees.
The move was seen as an attempt to shore up its base and defuse popular anger amid ongoing protests demanding president Hosni Mubarak’s removal.
The pay decision followed earlier promises to investigate election fraud and official corruption as well as an announcement that one of the most prominent youth organisers – Wael Ghonim, a marketing manager for Google – would be released.
The gestures so far have done little to persuade the tens of thousands of people occupying Cairo’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 Mr Mubarak steps down, while the regime wants him to stay in office until elections in September.
Newly-appointed Finance Minister Samir Radwan said 6.5 billion Egyptian pounds (£676 million) will be allocated to cover the salary and pension increases, which will take effect in April for the six 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, referring to the president. “He could raise it 65% 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 employees have been a pillar of support for the regime, but their salaries have stagnated in recent years while prices have soared, forcing the government to periodically announce rises to quell dissatisfaction.
Following widespread labour unrest in public sector factories in 2008, Mr Mubarak announced a 30% increase in public sector salaries that appeared to temporarily blunt public anger at the time.
Egypt’s vice president Omar Suleiman also met several major opposition groups, including the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, for the first time on 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.