Egypt's army dissolves parliament, vows elections

McClatchy NewspapersFebruary 13, 2011 

CAIRO — Egypt's new military rulers said Sunday that they'd dissolved parliament, suspended the constitution and would hold elections for a civilian government in as little as six months, addressing some of the key demands of the protesters who ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

As traffic bottlenecks and daily rhythms returned to Cairo on the first working day since Mubarak resigned on Friday, the announcement set a short timetable to organize elections while allaying fears about open-ended military rule. The military took power in a caretaker role upon Mubarak's resignation Friday.

The decision by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces not to form an interim civilian government and to rule by decree in the meantime, however, still left some unanswered questions. Among them: What role will civilians play in the transition, and who will serve on the committee to draft changes to the constitution?

Meanwhile, in a sign of important foreign support for the military caretakers, Israeli officials said they're unruffled by the historic regime change in their neighbor and leading Arab ally. A day after the Egyptian army said it would honor all international treaties — an apparent nod to its 1979 peace accord with Israel — Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak Sunday said both countries will maintain a strong relationship.

"I don't think the relationship in Israel and Egypt is under any risk, or that any kind of operational risk is waiting us just behind the corner," Barak told ABC's "This Week" in a recorded interview.

In Cairo, the army began dismantling the vast protest camp in Tahrir Square, removing tents and barricades and opening roads to traffic. Some protesters resisted and continued to occupy parts of the vast square, although most complied with the soldiers' request to leave.

Among protesters' key demands was rewriting Mubarak's authoritarian constitution, which currently sets no presidential term limits, restricts political candidacy to his National Democratic Party and leaves little room for judicial oversight in elections. The military said it would form a committee to draft amendments, which would be voted on in a referendum, but it didn't specify details.

Protesters also had called for scrapping Mubarak's rubber-stamp parliament after elections in November that were widely criticized as a sham. His party won 97 percent of the seats after independent experts accused it of harassing journalists, intimidating and arresting opposition members, and stuffing the ballot boxes.

Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, who was appointed by Mubarak during his final days in office and Mubarak's cabinet will remain in their roles and continue to manage day-to-day government functions until a new cabinet is formed.

But the military leadership, headed by Defense Minister Husssein Tantawi, appeared to leave some ambiguity. It didn't specify who'd form the new cabinet and when it would happen. And it also isn't clear whether the military will rule beyond six months if elections aren't held by then.

Experts said the military is trying to strike a balance between promoting reforms and maintaining stability after the swift pace of the revolution.

They noted that some senior officials from the Mubarak era had lost their posts, including former interior minister Habib al Adly, who presided over a reviled police force and was fired in an 11th-hour bid to calm the protests, and former information minister Anas el Fekki, who resigned over the weekend. Egyptian prosecutors have frozen the men's assets and barred them from leaving the country.

"It is more safe for the country to make a transition through the army institutions and through some elements from the old regime while eliminating the corrupted ones. And that is what has happened," said Amr Shobaki, an analyst at the semi-official Al Ahram Center for political and strategic studies.

However, Shobaki said, "one of the problems of this transition until now is they didn't integrate any independent figures."

The impact of Egypt's revolution continued to spread to other Arab countries with long-serving authoritarian rulers. Police in Yemen blocked thousands from reaching the capital's main square in a third straight day of demonstrations, while security forces in Bahrain set up checkpoints to quash possible protests, according to news reports. In Algeria, opposition groups called for protests every Saturday to demand regime change.

Earlier Sunday, Shafiq, in his first public remarks since Mubarak's resignation, said that security in Egypt was improving and urged the protesters to return to their jobs to help rebuild an economy crippled by nearly three weeks of mass demonstrations.

"Our first priority now is restoring safety and security to the Egyptian people," Shafiq said.

Egypt's ambassador to Washington, Sameh Shoukry, said that his country would remain a friend to the U.S. and that political reforms will take place even as Egypt rebuilds its economy and police force.

"Certainly there's a security void and it's necessary to restructure the police force, and economic conditions must be restructured as well," Shoukry said on ABC. "That doesn't preclude that the reform process would go on as well."

(Barbara Barrett contributed to this article from Washington. McClatchy special correspondent Miret El Naggar contributed from Cairo.)

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Follow developments in Egypt on McClatchy's Middle East Diary

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