Army issues ultimatum on Egypt’s charter panel

Army issues ultimatum on Egypt’s charter panel

Army issues ultimatum on Egypt’s charter panel

Anti-Mubarak protesters clash with security forces near Egypt’s Defense Ministry in Cairo in this May photo. The Egyptian military council has announced a deadline, expiring today, for political parties to finalize the formation of a Constitutional panel. REUTERS photo

Egypt’s ruling military council has set a 48-hour deadline, which will expire today, for political parties to finalize the formation of a 100-member panel to write a new Constitution, or it will draw up its own blueprint.

Lawmaker Mustafa Bakri on June 5 outlined the ultimatum after representatives of 18 parties and independent lawmakers met with the head of the council, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi. The process has been deadlocked since the Islamist-dominated Parliament tried to stack the body with its own people, leading to a walkout by secular and liberal members and the disbanding of the panel by a court order.

The dispute mirrors the splits in Egypt, two weeks before a presidential election run-off between a Muslim Brotherhood member and the last prime minister to serve under ousted President Hosni Mubarak, the two most polarizing candidates.

It also highlighted the contentious role of the ruling military in post-Mubarak Egypt. The military rulers have drawn stiff criticism for their handling of the transition. They have pledged to return power to a civilian government once a new president is in place, but there are some hints that they might try to hold back at the last moment if the outcome of the election is not in their favor, possibly using the lack of a new constitution as a reason.

Firm stance from Brotherhood

Several parties boycotted the meeting, including the Muslim Brotherhood. Saad el-Katatni of the Brotherhood, who is the parliamentary speaker, lashed out at the military council. “No one can strip the Parliament of its authority to issue legislation or laws,” he was quoted by The Associated Press as saying. Bakri said that if parties failed to name an assembly, the military council will issue “a supplementary Constitutional declaration” to lay a blueprint for the panel.

Yasser Ali, a spokesman for Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi, said if the military council went ahead with its declaration, “it will be hijacking legislative authority from Parliament.”

“We won’t recognize whatever comes from the military council. This is our position,” Ali said. The conflict over the Constitutional panel adds tension to an already charged political scene, coming three days after Mubarak was given a life sentence for failing to stop the killing of protesters during last year’s uprising.

Since the sentencing on June 2, angry Egyptians have swept into the streets, demanding justice and denouncing the whole election process. Thousands of Egyptians poured into Cairo’s Tahrir Square on June 5 to reclaim a revolt they say has been hijacked after Mubarak was jailed for life and his top security officials freed, which they say signals that his old guard is still in charge. The demonstrators railed against the ruling military council.

Middle East,