Egypt’s military, with U.S. support, blocks transition to civilian rule

The New York Times reports: Egypt’s military rulers are moving to assert and extend their own power so broadly that a growing number of lawyers and activists are questioning their willingness to ultimately submit to civilian authority.

Two members of the military council that took power after the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak said for the first time in interviews this week that they planned to retain full control of the Egyptian government even after the election of a new Parliament begins in November. The legislature will remain in a subordinate role similar to Mr. Mubarak’s former Parliament, they said, with the military council appointing the prime minister and cabinet.

“We will keep the power until we have a president,” Maj. Gen. Mahmoud Hegazy said. The military had pledged in formal communiqués last March to hold the presidential election by September. But the generals now say that will come only after the election of a Parliament, the formation of a constitutional assembly and the ratification of a new constitution — a process that could stretch into 2013 or longer.

A transition to civilian rule before and not after the drafting of a new constitution was also a core component of a national referendum on a “constitutional declaration” that passed in March as well. The declaration required that the military put in place democratic institutions and suspend a 30-year-old emergency law allowing arrests without trial before the drafting of the constitution to ensure a free debate. But by extending its mandate, the military will now preside over the constitutional process.

The military’s new plan “is a violation of the constitutional declaration,” Tarek el-Bishry, the jurist who led the writing of that declaration, wrote this week in the newspaper Al Sharouk, arguing that the now-defunct referendum had been the military’s only source of legitimacy.

The United States, where concerns run high that early elections could bring unfriendly Islamists to power and further strain relations with Israel, has so far signaled approval of the military’s slower approach to handing over authority. In an appearance this week with the Egyptian foreign minister, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged an early end to the emergency law but called the plan for elections “an appropriate timetable.”

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