Egypt’s military ‘to grant PM new powers’

Prime minister says ruling army to issue decree allowing him “presidential powers” as parliamentary run-off continues.

Kamal el-Ganzouri
Reports of a cabinet announcement came as Egyptians flocked to the polls for a parliamentary run-off  vote [AFP]

Egypt’s new prime minister says the ruling military government is to issue a constitutional amendment granting him extra powers, the country’s state news agency reports.

Kamal el-Ganzouri said on Tuesday that the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces would issue a decree “within hours” to hand him “presidential powers except those concerning the judiciary and armed forces”.

Ganzouri, who has been forming a “government of national salvation”, did not elaborate, though state television has been reporting the arrival of the decree “within hours” since Monday evening.

The prime minister’s comments come amid criticism from protesters who have accused the military of failing to give the last cabinet enough power.

The military appointed Ganzouri as prime minister last month and tasked him with appointing a cabinet. State media previously said about half the cabinet would keep posts they had under the outgoing prime minister, Essam Sharaf.

On Tuesday, state television confirmed Ganzouri’s appointment of Mumtaz al-Saeed as finance minister, but said two positions, including that of interior minister, would be announced when the new cabinet takes the oath of office on Wednesday.

Run-off continues

As Egyptians awaited the announcement of the final line up of the government, the country wrapped up the opening round of the first parliamentary elections since the fall of Hosni Mubarak.

The run-off for the first-round elections, which concluded on Tuesday, has increased tensions between competing Islamist groups that have so far dominated the vote, with scuffles breaking out and allegations of death threats.

The strife shows the challenges facing the frontrunner, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party (FJP), after hard line Islamist parties made a surprisingly strong showing.

The moderate Brotherhood is now under pressure to reassure both Egyptians and foreign allies that the country is not going down an extremist path and remains committed to democratic transition.

The Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest and best organised political group, is in the lead so far, with about 37 per cent of the vote, according to partial results released on Sunday.

But the Al-Nour bloc grabbed nearly a quarter of the vote for the ultra-conservative Salafis, who seek to impose strict Islamic law in Egypt.

Battle between Islamists

The strong Islamist showing came at the expense of liberal activist groups that led the uprising against Mubarak, toppling a regime long seen as a secular bulwark in the Middle East.

Nabil Abdel-Fattah, a senior researcher at Al-Ahram Centre for Strategic Studies in Cairo, said on Monday that the Islamists are in a “fierce” battle over the same ideological base”.

“They both have high financial resources. The Brotherhood have experience and social networks,” he said.

The Salafis “have no [political] experience, but are relying on a long history … of concessions” by the Mubarak regime, which “left them to expand as a way to counter the power of the Muslim Brotherhood”.

“This is going to be a very conservative Islamic parliament,” he said. “The conflicts will be between that trend and the democratic forces.”

‘Cleric beaten’

Tensions between the Brotherhood and Salafis have simmered in some run-off districts.

In Assiut, Gamaa Islamiya (part of the al-Nour bloc) wrested control of mosques from government-appointed preachers and installed their own prayer leaders.

In the city of Dayrout, the Brotherhood accused Gamaa Islamiya campaign workers of ordering all Brotherhood campaign workers to remove their computers and stay away from polling centres.

“A cleric was beat up, insulted and ordered to stay away,” a Muslim Brotherhood campaign worker said.

Despite the rivalry, Saad el-Katatni, the secretary-general of the FJP, said he did not expect election competition to spill over into parliament.

He said his party will work to form a broad coalition that includes liberal trends, and “absorbs” the Islamist parties who are new to the political scene.

“Some of the new parties wanted to be alone, to get as many seats as possible and to be seen as powerful in the parliament,” he said.

Katatni said it was too early to speak of specific parliamentary alliances, but so far, the major Salafi party has signalled it will not join, and has already walked out on a pre-election coalition with the Brotherhood.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies