Egypt’s military rulers mull early power transfer as voting for Shura Council resumes

Demonstrators take part in a protest demanding the army to hand power to civilians, at Tahrir square in Cairo. (Reuters)

Voting for Egypt’s upper house of parliament resumes on Monday amid reports that the country’s military rulers were considering a handover of power to a civilian authority ahead of schedule.

Activists and revolutionary groups have been demanding the immediate transfer of power to the speaker of Egypt’s newly elected parliament or an interim president; whereas the military rulers insist on handing over the executive authority after the presidential elections scheduled in June.

The Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) has asked its advisory council, which consists of prominent political and intellectual figures, to consider the early power transfer, the online edition of Egypt’s al-Ahram reported on Sunday.

The advisory council is expected to present its proposal within 72 hours.

According to the report carried by al-Ahram, the military council made the request on Saturday at a meeting with members of the advisory council, in the aftermath of the recent escalations while marking the revolution’s first anniversary on Jan. 25.

Sameh Ashour, deputy leader of the advisory council and head of the Nasserist Party, has proposed that the military council hand over power ahead of schedule following a constitutional referendum, without waiting for the results of elections for the upper house of Egypt’s parliament (Shura Council), which kicked off Sunday.

The referendum aimed at granting parliament the right to appoint the constituent assembly -- tasked with drawing up a new constitution -- which would allow the military council to step down sooner than originally proposed.

Ashour was quoted by al-Ahram as saying that according to the terms of a constitutional referendum held in March 2011, in the event that a new constitution has not been written before scheduled presidential polls, the elected president would hold power for one year while a new national charter is drawn up, before fresh elections are held.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party Secretary-General Mohammed al-Beltagy, meanwhile, has pledged the party’s support for the scheduled transfer of power in June following presidential polls.

“The Muslim Brotherhood has already departed Tahrir Square and only young people remain there,” Beltagy was quoted by al-Ahram as saying. He was referring to the weekend’s protests against military rule.

Meanwhile, turnout was low as Egyptians voted on Sunday for the Shura Council, in elections that are the latest step in the country’s planned transition from military to civilian rule.

Few voters showed up to cast their ballots at polling stations in Cairo, one of 13 provinces where the first stage of elections for the largely advisory council are taking place. A second stage will take place on Feb. 14-15.

“We now feel we have a role in shaping the country’s future,” Mohammed el-Hawari, a professor at Cairo’s Ain Shams University and one of those who did vote, told The Associated Press.

But voters in Cairo appeared split on the importance of the latest poll.

“I voted in the referendum (on constitutional amendments in March), I voted for the (People’s) Assembly, and so I will vote for the Shura,” said a voter who only gave her name as Seham, according to AFP.

“If this chamber had no importance, authorities would not be seeking to revive it,” she added.

In contrast, voter Zainab al-Sadawi, said: “If the Shura had an important role to play drafting the future constitution, there should have been campaigns on the subject. Otherwise, the People’s Assembly is enough.”

The Shura Council is composed of 270 members.

Under the complex system adopted after Mubarak’s ouster, two thirds of the Shura’s 180 elected members will be elected via a party-list system, while one third will be appointed directly.

Islamists dominated elections for the People’s Assembly, the more powerful of the two houses of parliament, in voting that ran from Nov. 28 through January. Turnout was heavy in these elections, which were the first since the Jan. 25-Feb. 11, 2011, mass uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak.

One secular party, the Free Egyptians, had announced that it was boycotting Shura Council elections to protest what it described as violations of Egypt’s election laws by Islamist parties during the People’s Assembly vote.

The secularists say that that Islamists made heavy use of religious slogans and campaigned too close to polling stations. Islamist spokesmen have denied using slogans inappropriately, and said that all groups campaigned too close to the stations.

Secular and liberal alliances, including youth parties which led the anti-Mubarak uprising, have performed poorly in elections.

Once the Shura Council elections are complete, according to Egypt’s transition plan, the parliament is tasked to select a 100-member panel to draft the country’s new constitution. The ruling military council which took power after Mubarak's ouster is then scheduled to transfer power to an elected civilian president by the end of June.

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