Egypt military wants to oversee constitution draft

SARAH EL DEEB
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A woman walks past Egyptian military at the entrance of a polling station in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Dec. 5, 2011. A trickle of Egyptian voters headed to the polls Monday for two days of runoffs in the country's first parliamentary elections since Hosni Mubarak's ouster, a balloting in which Islamist parties already captured an overwhelming majority of the votes in the first round. (AP Photo/Ahmed Ali)

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's military rulers said Wednesday the next parliament will not be representative enough to independently oversee the drafting of a new constitution, and they will appoint a council to guide the process and protect it from the influence of religious extremists.

Egypt just completed the initial stage of the first elections since Hosni Mubarak's ouster in February, with Islamist groups seizing an overwhelming majority. In theory, the new parliament will be entrusted with forming a 100-member constituent assembly to write the new constitution.

However, liberals and the military are now concerned that religious extremists will exert too much influence over the process.

"The parliament is not representing all sectors of society," said Gen. Mukhtar Mulla, a member of the ruling military council that took power when Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising. He said the constitution must be representative of all of Egypt, and not just of the parliamentary majority.

"We are in the early stages of democracy," he said. "This is not out of mistrust of the parliament. What we are seeing is free and fair elections ... but it certainly doesn't represent all sectors of society."

The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic fundamentalist group that was the best known and organized party competing in the elections, came in first with 37 percent of the vote in the first round, according to partial official results. The Al-Nour party — ultraconservative Islamists known as Salafis — took second with about 24 percent. That gives the two leading Islamist blocks more than 60 percent combined, even though they might not form an alliance.

Asked whether the new council is an attempt to limit the influence of the hard-line Salafis, who won a quarter of the vote, Mulla said: "Absolutely. Not the (military council). The Egyptian people won't allow this to happen." The Salafis want to impose strict Islamic law, or Shariah, in Egypt.

The elections dealt a serious blow to the youthful, liberal activists that drove the uprising against Mubarak. Many of them have complained that the elections were held too hurriedly, and they did not have ample time to organize parties and campaigns.

The military's advisory body will be made up of members of political parties, intellectuals and presidential hopefuls, as well as artists and members of syndicates, Mulla said.

It is not clear how the new council will negotiate with the parliament the guidelines for choosing the constituent assembly. But when the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces in the past floated the idea that it would name 80 of the 100 members of constituent assembly and tried to enshrine in the constitution a political role for itself in the future, it caused a backlash from both Islamists and liberals.

A strong showing by Islamists in the elections could boost their popular mandate to fight the military's plan.

Mulla said the new council will coordinate with the parliament and the Cabinet to ensure that that the constituent assembly drafting the constitution is representative of all religions, professions, and political parties.

He said the new parliament cannot be compared to the U.S. Congress.

"We still have instability in Egypt. We have economic and security problems. The conditions are different," he said. "When the parliament is in stable conditions, it can elect and choose whatever it wants. For now, all sectors of society must participate in constructing the new constitution."

Mulla said the council won't dictate who will be part of the constituent assembly, suggesting an agreement would be reached to ensure the assembly is representative.

"I think no one will object to this demand. There will be standards agreed upon by all the Egyptian people," Mulla said.

A member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sobhi Saleh, said the military or its advisory council can't enforce such guidelines on the parliament.

"We reject any attempt to have a mandate over the will of people. We can accept these guidelines only if these were for guidance and not obligatory," said Saleh, a lawyer.