Egypt Islamists want to stick to army vote timetable
Islamists accused of betraying protesters’ demands for the sake of securing their own positions in new power structure
Reuters | Dec 23,2011 | 23:02
An Egyptian boy walks in front of anti-parliamentary elections graffiti at Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt on Thursday (AP photo)
CAIRO — The Muslim Brotherhood, whose party is leading Egypt's parliamentary election, came out on Thursday against bringing forward a presidential vote to end military rule, saying changing the timetable would wreak chaos.
Protesters who fought troops in Cairo for five days before calm was restored this week want the military council to cede power more swiftly. The health ministry said on Thursday the death toll had risen to 17 after two more died of wounds.
Some Egyptians, suspicious of the military's avowed commitment to democratic change, would like a presidential vote by January 25, the first anniversary of the start of the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak. The vote is now planned for mid-2012.
Activists planned a mass march to Tahrir Square on Friday to protest against army rule and the latest violence, which Egypt's prime minister said had caused huge losses to the economy.
The once-banned Brotherhood, keen to seal its place in mainstream politics via the staggered six-week parliamentary vote after decades of state repression, kept a low profile during the latest clashes in Tahrir Square, which killed 15 people.
Essam Al Erian, deputy head of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), which fielded the most candidates in second-round runoff votes on Thursday, said his group backed the army timetable to hand power to an elected president by July.
"I think that is better than arranging it as soon as possible because this may create chaos," he told Reuters.
He said holding a presidential vote before both houses of parliament were elected and able to draw up a new constitution risked handing too much power to a new president. "We are not going to create a new Mubarak," he said.
Elections to both houses will not be completed until March.
But the liberal Egyptian Bloc, pushed into third place so far by the FJP and an ultraconservative Salafi Islamist group in the parliamentary vote, demanded a swift presidential vote.
"We believe the military should hand over power in no more than three months," the liberal alliance said in a statement.
Protesters, who have stayed in Tahrir since November 18 despite several charges by police to clear the square, are angry at the army's fierce treatment of demonstrators and believe the military high command is trying to cling to power.
Many activists accuse the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists of betraying the protesters' demands for the sake of securing their own positions in the new power structure.
Analysts say an earlier presidential election would not necessarily eliminate the military's dominance in a new civilian-governed state, because viable candidates would need to have good relations with the generals.
The military has survived Egypt's political upheaval intact and has vast economic and other interests. Any new president would need its nod to maintain order.
"This is a transitional period where one party hands power to another. A deal must be struck. This is politics," a source close to the military said.
Presidential contenders include Amr Musa, former foreign minister and ex-head of the Arab League. He, like some rivals, has joined a consultative council to advise the army, although the body suspended its activities in protest over the violence.
The violence of past days, and a flare-up in November when 42 people were killed, shocked many Egyptians, although many still say only the army can restore order.
"We had a revolution so we could make progress and fair elections was a main goal so right now this is more important than anything," Mahmoud Sadek, 21, said in downtown Cairo, a few streets away from the hundreds of protesters still in Tahrir.
Army-backed Prime Minister Kamal Al Ganzouri, appointed in November under pressure from protests to sack the previous government, outlined the challenges and appealed for unity at a news conference. His Cabinet was appointed this month.
"I had wished that after two weeks, I would come and tell you about what we have achieved ... but I cannot," he said.
"Is this not of itself a testimony to the fact that we are facing a real problem and that we must sit down together and discuss it?" Ganzouri said. "The economic situation requires that we have consensus and dialogue."
Other states ‘turned their backs’
He said that the economy had lost billions of dollars from the turmoil but received only $1 billion from Arab states, while world powers had not followed through on aid pledges. He said differences among Egyptians were to blame.
"In the first months [after the uprising], everyone raced to help Egypt, but when we disagreed among each other in the past few months, they turned their backs on us," he said.
The clashes in Cairo have driven a wedge between those determined to stay on the streets and others desperate for a return to order to shore up the economy and entice back foreign tourists.
But many have been shocked by images of police and soldiers hitting protesters with batons after they fell to the ground and, in one case, kicking, beating and dragging a woman by her black robe, exposing her torso, and then kicking her.
"I do not blame anyone nor do I defend anyone, I hope that everyone seeks to remove the appearance of violence. How can the state of Egypt, at the centre of its capital, have these depressing events?" Ganzouri said.
The United States, which looked to Egypt as crucial ally in Mubarak's era, has criticised the handling of the protests. Washington gives Cairo $1.3 billion a year in military aid.
The army said in a statement on Thursday that "its official opinions are the ones announced in its statements, those broadcast as well as those published on its Facebook page", an apparent bid to quell anger at some remarks by officials.
One adviser to the military had told a newspaper that protesters he blamed for burning down a state building should be put in "Hitler's incinerators".
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