Egypt's military rulers have forcefully asserted their role in the country's uncertain revolutionary politics, declaring their intention to preside over the drafting of a new constitution and insisting that the early results of parliamentary voting do not represent Egyptian society.
In a rare briefing with foreign journalists on Wednesday, army General Mukhtar al-Mulla said that parliament's ability to choose a 100-member assembly that will draft the new constitution will be constrained by military-approved "parameters", according to media reports.
Just a day after the first round of parliamentary voting finished, delivering Islamists roughly two-thirds of the available seats, Mulla, a member of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), said the country's new parliament could not be broadly representative of Egypt because elections are occurring "in such unstable conditions".
"What we are seeing is free and fair elections ... but they certainly don't represent all sectors of society," Mulla said, according to the Guardian.
He said that the military would appoint an advisory civilian council to act as an intermediary between the SCAF, parliament and the cabinet - which itself was appointed by the military.
All four groups would have to agree on the composition of the 100-member constitutional assembly, Mulla said.
"There will be an agreement beforehand on the form of this constituent assembly between the cabinet, the advisory committee for the military council, and the parliament," he told reporters.
Showdown with the Brotherhood
Mulla's remarks prompted immediate reaction from the Muslim Brotherhood, whose Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) is estimated to have won nearly half of the available seats in the just-finished round of parliamentary voting, the first of three for the lower house.
Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan said his organisation would boycott the civilian advisory council, since it would constrain the powers of parliament.
Mohamed el-Beltagy, a high-ranking Brotherhood member and FJP candidate, said the military was trying to control the formation of the constituent assembly.
"At any rate, the cabinet or the new consultative council can only offer suggestions that parliament has a right to dismiss and is not bound by," he told the Reuters news agency.
In his briefing, Mulla implied that the elected parliament would not be representative enough to draft a document that needed to last "for many years to come".
"We have a lot of other factions such as workers, farmers, engineers and doctors who are not in parliament," he said, according to the New York Times.
His statements were the latest broadside in a crucial political battle between the SCAF and the Brotherhood, whose Freedom and Justice Party won roughly 48 per cent of the seats available in the first round of voting for the People's Assembly. The Nour Party, which represents a fundamentalist Salafi constituency, won about 19 per cent.
It was not the first time a member of the SCAF has said that parliament will have limited powers. In late November, General Mamdouh Shahin said parliament would not be able to pick the ministers in a new government.
Egypt's current constitution, drafted by a military-approved committee and approved by referendum in March, gives the military that power, as well as the power to convene and dissolve parliament.
For its part, the Brotherhood - confident in its electoral chances - supports a strong parliament and has said for months that the majority should choose the new government.
Insider at interior ministry
Also on Wednesday, interim Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri, selected by the SCAF, announced a new cabinet after nearly two weeks of delay. Ganzouri took power after the previous interim government led by Essam Sharaf resigned in the wake of violence between protesters and riot police in Tahrir Square that claimed dozens of lives.
Ganzouri selected an insider to lead the important interior ministry, which protesters have demanded be reformed in the wake of ousting President Hosni Mubarak in February. Interior ministry riot police and security agents are blamed for some of the worst human rights abuses under Mubarak's reign.
Mohammed Ibrahim Yusuf, who previously led the Giza security directorate for the ministry, will assume the top position.
Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr and 12 other ministers were retained from Sharaf's government.
The SCAF announced that it had granted Ganzouri "presidential powers," giving him greater control to run the country, but no oversight of the armed forces or judiciary.