Egyptian military moves to retain power after vote (AP) Associated Press) By HAMZA HENDAWI CAIRO, EGYPT 06/18/12 4:42 pm ET)
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CAIRO – Islamist candidate Mohammed Morsi claimed a hollow victory
Monday in Egypt´s presidential vote just hours after the country´s
military rulers stripped the office of its most important powers.
The power grab by the ruling generals delivered another major blow to
hopes for a democratic transition born out of last year´s uprising
that ousted authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak.
The generals, who deny having effectively staged a coup and rendering
the elected president a mere figurehead, will maintain authority over
the crafting of laws and the drafting of a new constitution. Civilian
oversight of their budget and other affairs will be strictly off-
If Morsi´s victory is confirmed in the official result expected on
Thursday, it would be the first victory of an Islamist as head of
state in the stunning wave of pro-democracy uprisings that swept the
Middle East the past year. But the military´s moves to retain power
sharpen the possibility of confrontation and more of the turmoil that
has beset Egypt since Mubarak´s overthrow.
"The military may partially exit from power after a new round of
tough negotiations with the Islamist and the secular opposition on
safeguarding its interests," said Azzedine Layachi, a Middle East
expert from St. John´s University in New York. "However, and no
matter what, the military will continue to play a dominant role in
Egyptian politics. The question for now is whether they will continue
to do so directly for the coming years or indirectly behind the
façade of a civilian rule."
In Washington, Pentagon press secretary George Little said the U.S.
was troubled by the timing of the military leaders´ announcement and
would urge them "to relinquish power to civilian-elected authorities
and to respect the universal rights of the Egyptian people and the
rule of law."
"This is a critical moment in Egypt, and the world is watching
closely," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told
reporters. "We are particularly concerned by decisions that appear to
prolong the military´s hold on power."
The Obama administration has sought to safeguard its interests while
championing change in Egypt. Mubarak made Cairo a bulwark of American
influence in the Middle East before being pushed from power in
The new measures came just days after a court packed with judges
appointed by Mubarak dissolved the Islamist-dominated parliament, and
the military assumed broad authority to arrest civilians — and less
than two weeks from the date the rulers set for a transfer of power
back to civilians.
The generals issued a "constitutional declaration" late Sunday before
even a single ballot was counted at the end of the second and final
day of a presidential runoff that pitted Morsi, a U.S.-trained
engineer, against Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak´s last prime minister.
The new president, according to the document, will not be able to
declare war or order troops out on the streets in case of domestic
unrest without the prior consent of the military. He will also have
no say in the affairs of the military, whose top brass will
exclusively exercise the right to appoint commanders and extend their
The declaration removes the title of "Supreme Commander of the Armed
Forces" from the next president, breaking with the tradition
enshrined by Egypt´s four presidents since the overthrow of the
monarchy nearly 60 years ago. All four were career military officers.
Using its legislative authority, the military council issued another
decree made public on Monday forming a new national defense council
made up of 11 senior military commanders, including the defense
minister, as well as the president. Though the council´s mandate was
not specified, it appears to be another step to limit the role of the
president and enshrine the role of the military as the highest
authority over national security policy.
Additionally, implicit in the new political timeline spelled out in
the first document is that the next president may not serve more than
one year of his four-year term and that the generals would remain in
power at least until early next year.
The declaration says preparations for a new general election must
start within a month of adopting a permanent constitution in a
nationwide vote, something that is not likely to happen before late
this year. With a new constitution widely expected to redefine the
nation´s political system, including the powers of the legislative
and executive branches, new presidential elections will most likely
be inevitable soon thereafter.
The declaration gives the generals the right to replace the 100-
member panel selected by the dissolved legislature last week to draft
a new constitution. Liberals and others have boycotted the panel to
protest what they said was its domination by Islamists, the same
reason that led to the dissolution of a previous panel by a court
Mostly Islamist lawmakers announced plans to try to force their way
into parliament´s building on Tuesday. The military has warned that
soldiers stationed outside the facility since Thursday´s court order
would arrest anyone who tries.
Kristen A. Stilt, a Middle East expert from Northwestern University
in Illinois, believes the scope of the military´s concerns began
to "dramatically broaden" when the Islamist-dominated parliament
first sat about six months ago and later when the lawmakers sought to
dominate a panel mandated to write a new constitution.
When Morsi´s chances to win the presidency appeared to be good, the
generals made their move when they still had the chance.
"From their point of view, these events threatened more than the
military´s privileges and interests, and the military moved in for
what is being called a ´legal coup´ — using the tools of law rather
than, at least to date, significant force," she said.
Without naming Morsi, the generals on Monday sought to assure the
nation that the next president will have full presidential powers and
that the transfer of power remained on track for before the end of
this month. They said the new president will have the authority to
appoint and dismiss the government and can reject legislation
forwarded by the military as the interim legislative branch.
"We´ll never tire or be bored from assuring everyone that we will
hand over power before the end of June," Maj.-Gen. Mohammed al-Assar,
a senior member of the ruling military council, told a televised news
conference Monday. The transfer, he said, will take place in a "grand
ceremony" for the whole world to see. He did not give an exact date.
"The military risks squandering the support it has if it seems like
it is resisting any form of change," said Jon Alterman, a Middle East
expert from Washington´s Center for Strategic and International
Studies. "As I read it, there is a broad constituency for measured
change in Egypt, and the military has demonstrated great difficulty
But the promise by the ruling council to hand over power did not
satisfy Islamists like Morsi´s Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt´s most
powerful political group.
In a statement, the Brotherhood´s political arm, the Freedom and
Justice party, said the generals had no right to issue the
constitutional declaration less than two weeks before the scheduled
handover, and rejected their endorsement of the court ruling that
dissolved the legislature.
The military has been the single most dominant institution in Egypt
since a group of young officers seized power in a 1952 coup and later
overthrew the monarchy. Many in the pro-democracy youth groups behind
last year´s anti-Mubarak uprising have warned that the generals who
took over from Mubarak would not willingly step down and allow
civilians to take over the reins of power. Also at stake is that the
generals don´t want anyone meddling in their affairs and demand
immunity from civilian scrutiny of their vast economic interests.
The backdrop to those concerns is a history of enmity between the
military and the Brotherhood, which emerged after Mubarak´s ouster as
the nation´s most powerful group.
The army officers who seized power in 1952 turned against the
Brotherhood two years later, jailing its leaders along with thousands
of their supporters. Mubarak, mentor of the generals who succeeded
him, spent most of his 29 years in office cracking down on the group.
The Brotherhood has spent most of the 84 years since its inception as
an outlawed group, a time it used to master underground work and
discipline its members. Also over the years, it has built a
reputation for opportunism and backroom deals.
Secular activists say the group has abandoned them during a series of
anti-military protests in the 16 months since Mubarak´s ouster in
which security forces used deadly force. At the time, they claim, the
Brotherhood was close to realizing its dream of political domination
and did not want to do anything to upset the generals.
Though official results have not yet been announced, the Brotherhood
released a tally that showed Morsi took nearly 52 percent of the vote
to defeat Shafiq, who mustered 48 percent in a very close race. The
count was based on results announced by election officials at
individual polling centers, where each campaign has representatives
who compile and release the numbers before the formal announcement.
The Shafiq campaign rejected Morsi´s claim of victory and accused him
to trying to "usurp" the presidency or lay the groundwork to
challenge the official result if it shows Shafiq winning.
In a victory speech at his headquarters in the middle of the night,
Morsi, 60, clearly sought to assuage the fears of many Egyptians that
the Brotherhood would try to impose stricter provisions of Islamic
law. He said he seeks "stability, love and brotherhood for the
Egyptian civil, national, democratic, constitutional and modern
state" and made no mention of Islamic law.
"Thank God, who successfully led us to this blessed revolution," he
said. "Thank God, who guided the people of Egypt to this correct
path, the road of freedom, democracy." ___ Associated Press
correspondents Bradley Klapper and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington
contributed to this report. (© 2012 The Associated Press 06/18/12)
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