Egypt Army Suspends Constitution, Promises Elections
Egypt’s ruling army council said it aims to hand power to a democratically elected government within six months, after almost three weeks of popular unrest ended 30 years of autocratic rule by President Hosni Mubarak.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces yesterday dissolved parliament, suspended the constitution and said it would rule until general elections take place. The council also formed a committee to introduce constitutional changes, according to a statement read on state television yesterday.
Protesters want the amendments to make it easier to run for president, set term limits on the presidency and cancel the constitutional authority for anti-terrorism measures such as arbitrary arrest, searches and military tribunals. Mass demonstrations forced Mubarak to cede power to the army on Feb. 11, throwing into question the future course of a key U.S. ally.
“It’s a positive sign that they canceled the parliament and suspended the constitution,” Michael Hanna, a fellow at The Century Foundation in New York, said. “I think from here there needs to be one firm timetable set.”
The plan to hand power to a democratically elected government helped boost global stocks. The MSCI Emerging Markets Index advanced 1.1 percent at 6:35 a.m. in New York, as the Shanghai Composite Index climbed 2.5 percent. The Stoxx Europe 600 Index added 0.3 percent, while Standard & Poor’s 500 Index futures lost 0.1 percent.
Orascom Construction Industries, Egypt’s biggest publicly traded builder, rose 3.7 percent in London trading. Orascom Telecom Holding SAE, the Middle East’s biggest mobile network operator by subscribers, gained 3.2 percent. Commercial International Bank, the largest lender, jumped 5.5 percent. Egypt’s dollar bonds due 2020 were little changed with the yield at 6.35 percent at 12:41 p.m. in Cairo. They fell 15 basis points, or 0.15 percentage point, on Feb. 11.
Egypt’s stock exchange, shut for more than two weeks, extended a trading suspension by at least two days to Feb. 20 after the central bank yesterday ordered banks to close today. Egypt’s benchmark stocks index tumbled 16 percent in the week before the suspension.
Naguib Sawiris, chairman of Orascom Telecom Holding, said he is concerned about capital outflows from Egypt as a result of the unrest, “but it will be temporary until people see real democratic regime and see a return of normality.” He spoke today in a phone interview on Bloomberg Television.
Sawiris was a member of an informal committee that negotiated with Vice President Omar Suleiman about a gradual transfer of power by Mubarak before the leader resigned.
Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik said yesterday he’ll concentrate on restoring security following more than two weeks of protests and that further unrest may harm the economy. The military council said Shafik’s government would continue to run the affairs of the government until a new one is formed.
“We are focused on the security situation and returning security to the people who have felt its absence,” Shafik, a former air force general named as premier by Mubarak on Jan. 31, said at a Cairo press conference.
Sameh Shoukry, Egypt’s ambassador to the U.S., said the country doesn’t yet have a timetable for lifting emergency law. Military leaders will end the measure “as conditions stabilize,” Shoukry said on ABC’s “This Week With Christiane Amanpour” program.
The army cordoned off the remaining protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, as it seeks to restore order. The army and military police were preventing people from joining about 50 protesters still in the square who vowed to stay there until authorities meet their demands for the immediate lifting of the state of emergency, the release of political prisoners, a rapid transfer of power to a civilian presidential council, and a new government to run the country until elections.
Traffic began to flow again into the square. The army tore down some of the tents used by demonstrators to camp out there.
The protests left at least 300 people dead, according to the United Nations, roiled financial markets worldwide and sent yields on Egyptian bonds higher. The North African country’s economy lost $310 million a day during the unrest, Finance Minister Samir Radwan told reporters in Cairo. The economy may need a stimulus package to help create jobs, he said Feb. 12.
The economy may grow between 3.5 percent and 4 percent this fiscal year, Radwan said.
A total of 18 artifacts disappeared from the Egyptian Museum during the demonstrations and riots, including two statues of King Tutankhamun, Zahi Hawass, head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said on his website.
The army and police are looking into the matter with people in custody, Hawass said. The missing objects include a gilded wooden statue of Tutankhamun carried by a goddess and a separate statue of the king, also of gilded wood.
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