Egypt army, MPs - clash over president

2012-05-22 20:58

Cairo - Egypt's army and mainly Islamist politicians have deferred talks on what powers the new president will have until after this week's presidential vote, which is unlikely to produce an outright winner, political sources said on Tuesday.

Egyptians go to the polls on Wednesday and Thursday and if no candidate gains more than 50% of the vote, the top two contenders will fight a run-off in June.

The military council that took over after Hosni Mubarak was toppled last year has promised to hand over to a newly elected president by 1 July, but no one knows what constitutional authority the next head of state will have.

An assembly that was to have written a new constitution was suspended in April amid acrimony between Islamists and their more secular-minded rivals.

Political parties and the military had then hoped to agree on interim constitutional changes to regulate the powers of the president, government and parliament before the presidential election, but informal talks have failed to produce a deal.

"No one really knows what the outcome of this vote is. And neither side feels it should set down just yet what powers the unknown president will have over the state," an Egyptian official with knowledge of the talks said.

Under an army-drafted constitutional decree approved by a referendum in March 2011, the president does not have the power to dissolve parliament, which is now dominated by Islamists.

The Muslim Brotherhood, whose Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) won the biggest bloc in the assembly in an election completed in January, says that interim document will suffice until a permanent constitution is drafted.

The army, in power since "Free Officers" ousted King Farouk in 1952, appears determined to retain a political role, even as it formally makes way for a civilian president.

Military stalling

One demand of the military is to restrict the president's authority over army appointments and his ability to go to war without the consent of the generals. One official said one idea was for the military to give the president a limited list of names from which to pick a defence minister and top commanders.

It is not clear whether Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, defence minister for almost 21 years, will resign when a new president and government emerge, although some officials say the 76-year-old may well step down.

General Mamdouh Shahin, a member of the military council, said weeks ago that articles delineating the role of the president could be issued before a head of state is elected.

But he backed down on Monday when it became clear that no agreement had emerged from a series of informal meetings between the military and political parties, including the FJP.

The Brotherhood has said it does not want to confront the generals, but senior members of Egypt's oldest and most potent Islamist group say the military's demands are too high.

"The military council is very worried now that if a president is elected and the military council does not have influence over the drafting of the constitution, their position in the state will be undermined. They are very resistant to this," Essam Haddad, senior Brotherhood member.

Mubarak, a former air force chief, had full control over military appointments and dismissals, as well as the defence budget. He also controlled defence procurement.

Secret budget

The military would resist allowing a civilian president to have those prerogatives, sources familiar with the talks said.

It wants to shield its budget from public scrutiny, allowing it to be discussed only by parliament's national security committee headed by an ex-general, the sources said.

Army officials say the military's sprawling commercial enterprises keep it financially self-sufficient and resistant to economic troubles which could affect the broader state.

"The Turkish model for the relationship between the state and the military seems to be where Egypt is heading," said Essam Erian, a senior FJP member.

He was referring to the Turkish military's once-powerful political role, now much eroded by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's Islamist-rooted ruling party, a change of fortunes dramatised by a series of trials of top military commanders.

"But we do not want to start where Turkey is now," Erian said.

Read more on:    egypt  |  north africa  |  egypt elections 2012

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