The Obama administration warned Egypt’s military leaders on Monday to speedily hand over power or risk losing billions of dollars in U.S. military and economic aid to the country.
Pentagon and State Department officials expressed concern with a last-minute decree by Egypt’s ruling military council giving itself sweeping authority to maintain its grip on power and subordinate the nominal head of state. The move followed last week’s dissolution of parliament by an Egyptian court.
“This is a critical moment in Egypt, and the world is watching closely,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters. “We are particularly concerned by decisions that appear to prolong the military’s hold on power.”
Pentagon press secretary George Little said the U.S. was troubled by the timing of the military leaders’ announcement, just as polls closed Sunday night for the presidential election. He said the U.S. would urge them “to relinquish power to civilian elected authorities and to respect the universal rights of the Egyptian people and the rule of law.”
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After a second round of presidential voting on Sunday, the Muslim Brotherhood was claiming victory for their candidate, Mohammed Mursi today. Such declarations were met with protest, however, as Mursi's rivals claimed former Mubarak Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq had received a majority of votes. Official results will not be announced until later this week, but given new developments overnight, the presidency may not be the prize it once seemed.
Late on Sunday, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) issued new 'constitutional decrees' stripping key powers away from the eventual president and announcing it would now take back the assembly's legislative powers. The military council's announcement also indicated that it could exert much broader influence in upcoming efforts to draft a new constitution.
"Military Transfers Power, to Military," ran the ironic headline in independent newspaper al-Masry al-Youm. Observers who last week saw the High Court's decision to dissolve parliament as a 'soft coup' took these latest SCAF maneuvers as a clear sign that the military council was moving fast to consolidate its powerhold over the country.
"The supplementary constitutional declaration," said Prof. Nathan Brown of George Washington University in an analysis of the decrees, "really does complete the coup in many obvious ways – basically returning martial law (in its more original sense rather than the “state of emergency” that just expired), making the military unaccountable, and grabbing back oversight of the political system for the military just weeks before the scheduled end of military rule."
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"Given a choice between eating shit or eating shit, most Egyptians have decided they're not hungry."
-Omar Kamel, activist
With estimates of the first day turnout as low as 15%, daily newspaper al-Shorouk in its front-page headline on Sunday declared "boycott" the only victor. Many young revolutionaries refused to endorse either of the two well-oiled political machines – the Brotherhood on the one hand and the army-backed remnants of Mubarak's theoretically dissolved NDP party on the other – on the ballot paper, with some instead scrawling in the names of comic-book heroes, belly-dancers or protesters killed by security forces in last year's anti-Mubarak uprising.
"These elections are being conducted under Scaf [the Supreme Council of Armed Forces], which took power when Mubarak was toppled in February 2011], said Omar Kamel a musician and activist who has been one of the leading voices in favour of a boycott campaign. "The bedrock of Scaf's existence is completely illegitimate, and that makes all the fictional legal mechanisms put in place to justify the generals' authority illegitimate as well. This electoral contest will be decided by which of the two big patronage networks can mobilise its footsoldiers more effectively, and the winner will in no way represent the will of the Egyptian people."
Kamel claimed the anticipated meagre turnout would strike a hammer blow at the new president's credibility and make it harder to justify draconian crackdowns by the state against pro-change demonstrators. "Given a choice between eating shit or eating shit, most Egyptians have decided they're not hungry," he concluded.
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