On eve of vote, Egypt’s military extends its power

The New York Times reports: Egypt’s military rulers moved to consolidate power Friday on the eve of the presidential runoff election, shutting down the Islamist-led Parliament, locking out lawmakers and seizing the sole right to issue laws even after a new head of state takes office.

The generals effectively abandoned their previous pledge to cede power to a civilian government by the end of the month, prolonging the increasingly tortuous political transition after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak last year. The power play has also darkened the prospects that Egypt, the most populous Arab state and one that historically has had tremendous influence on the direction of the region, might quickly emerge as a model of democracy for the Middle East.

Their moves, predicated on a court ruling on Thursday and announced with little fanfare by the state news media, make it likely that whoever wins the presidential race will — at least at first — compete with the generals for power and influence. The military counsel also indicated through the official news media that it planned to issue a new interim constitution and potentially select its own panel to write a permanent charter. The generals have already sought permanent protections for their autonomy and political power.

Robert Mackey writes: As my colleague David Kirkpatrick reports, many of the Internet activists who helped drive Egypt’s 2011 revolution are dismayed about the choice offered by this weekend’s presidential runoff between two conservatives. In meetings with bloggers in Cairo all this week, conversations returned again and again to how best to respond to a deeply unpalatable choice: voting for Ahmed Shafik, Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, or Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group that was Mr. Mubarak’s main opposition but has managed to alienate many former allies from last year’s protest movement.

Although some prominent activists have called on revolutionaries to cast strategic votes for Mr. Morsi to block the standard-bearer of the old order, many others are convinced that it is better not to cast any vote at all in elections conducted under continued, even intensifying, military rule.

But even those bloggers who have decided not to vote for either candidate are still debating how best to register their disapproval of the election: by staying away from the polls entirely, and seeking to depress voter turnout, or by spoiling their ballots, crossing out the names of both candidates and forcing the authorities to report the number of voters who actively rejected both men.

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