Egypt says no to foreign election monitors

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FILE- In this Friday, July 15, 2011 file photo, Egyptians hang a banner supporting Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of Egypt's ruling military council, at center, during a pro military council rally in Cairo, Egypt. Egypt's ruling generals are seeking to enshrine a future role for themselves with considerable independence from civilian leaders and possibly an authority to intervene in politics. (AP Photo/File)

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's ruling generals say foreigners won't be allowed to monitor upcoming elections but there will be Egyptian observers.

The decision was announced Wednesday as the military unveiled a law setting guidelines for Egypt's first post-revolution parliamentary vote.

Maj. Gen. Mamdouh Shaheen, a member of the military council that assumed control of the country after Hosni Mubarak stepped down, says the army will announce a date for the elections by the end of next month.

He says there won't be foreign monitors in order to protect the country's sovereignty.

In a notable change from Mubarak's days, however, he says the judiciary will oversee the process, not the Interior Ministry — which often fixed the vote to help the ruling party.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

CAIRO (AP) — A key member of a panel drafting guidelines for Egypt's next constitution said on Wednesday that most of the group's 50 members object to giving the military a future role in politics.

Legal expert Tahany el-Gibali said the binding principles will have enough guarantees to protect the rights of all Egyptians while also safeguarding the civilian character of the state.

The military's future place in public life has become a fiercely debated issue in Egypt, with some viewing the army as a bulwark against Islamists rising to power and others as a pernicious force protecting its own deep-seated interests and those of former President Hosni Mubarak's ousted regime.

The generals who have led Egypt since Mubarak's fall on Feb. 11 are trying to enshrine a future role for themselves, possibly with the authority to intervene in politics. Their push appears to be driven by the military's fear of losing the near-autonomous power it has enjoyed for almost 60 years.

Another legal expert and panel member, Mohammed Nour Farahat, said the panel would submit the draft to the military but that it would be up to the generals sitting on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to decide what to do with the document — adopt it without change, amend it, issue it by decree or put it up for a referendum.

Farahat said the panel's work was voluntary and not commissioned by the generals, but el-Gibali suggested that the guidelines were being drawn up with the tacit approval of the military.

She said the draft was likely to be ready in a matter of days and that it would represent a compromise that bridges the gap between Islamists and the rest of the country's political forces over the selection of those to be mandated to draft the constitution and the nature of the charter wanted by most Egyptians.

Many in Egypt fear that the Islamists, led by the Muslim Brotherhood — the country's largest and best organized political group — would dominate parliamentary elections expected later this year. The next legislature will be mandated with selecting a 100-member constituent assembly to draft the new constitution, a privilege that could mean a document with an Islamist slant if the Brotherhood and other Islamists sweep at the polls.

El-Gibali said one proposal was for the military to intervene in politics only after the country's Supreme Constitutional Court rules that a violation of the letter or spirit of the constitution has taken place.

She said the guiding principles, which would not be subject to change or cancellation, would also guarantee the country's democratic system, its territorial integrity, basic rights, citizenship rights and assert the country's Arab identity.

"Those who are campaigning for giving the military the right to intervene in politics are mostly leftists fearing an Islamist takeover," el-Gibali told The Associated Press.

Maj. Gen. Mamdouh Shaheen, a key member of the military council who is overseeing the process for drawing up the guidelines, said in comments published recently that the country's next constitution should safeguard the armed forces against the "whims" of any future president, practically asking for the armed forces to be given virtually complete independence.

One of the legal experts that the military is consulting in the process, Hisham Bastawisi, has gone further, proposing that the military in the future have the role of "guaranteeing supra-constitutional principles." In his formulation, that would appear to mean powers to intervene to protect basic democratic rights.

But some fear that could give the generals a tool for imposing its will at a time when the country is trying to move toward democratic rule with civilians at the helm.

Bastawisi, who has announced his intention to run for president, also proposed extensive independence for the military, including immunity from parliamentary scrutiny of its budgets and prohibitions on passing laws affecting the military without the generals' approval.