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Egypt’s Ruling Military Under Renewed Pressure to Cede Power

Egypt’s ruling military council came under renewed pressure to speed up the transition to civilian rule, after opposition groups said it hadn’t relinquished enough authority in the wake of the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak.

The council swore in a new Cabinet this week and gave Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri presidential powers, although these exclude oversight of the military and judiciary, it said. The army has said it will remain the ultimate authority in Egypt until a president is elected next year.

“We reject the government of el-Ganzouri,” said Ahmed Maher, co-founder and coordinator of the April 6 Youth Movement, one of the groups behind the revolt against Mubarak that has staged a sit-in outside the Cabinet building. “This whole thing is an attempt to maneuver around our demands. We want a real national salvation government that represents the people and represents Tahrir Square,” he said, referring to the nearby plaza that has been the focus of protests in Cairo.

The Arab world’s most populous country is in the early stages of elections that are expected to give Islamist groups the largest share of seats in parliament in January. The Muslim Brotherhood, whose Freedom and Justice party secured the most ballots in the first round of voting last week, said yesterday it wouldn’t take part in a civilian consultative body being formed by the military council.

Draft Constitution

Party members “felt they would be uncomfortable with the authorities,” said Mahmoud Ghozlan, spokesman for the Brotherhood, without elaborating. His comments came after the Associated Press cited a member of the military council, Mukhtar el-Mullah, as saying that parliament won’t be representative enough to oversee the drafting of a constitution, and that the army would appoint a council to check the influence of religious extremists on the process.

“Who then represents the people? All political currents are represented in the parliament,” said Ghozlan. “Do they want a parliament with no powers?”

The Nour party, which represents Salafi Islamists, came second in the first round of voting, which covered Cairo and eight other provinces. The main secular alliance contesting the vote, the Egyptian Bloc, came third with about 13 percent of votes for party lists in the first round, official results show. The strong performance by Egypt’s religiously oriented groups follows victories by Islamist parties this year in Morocco and Tunisia, where the wave of uprisings began a year ago.

Electoral System

Due to the complexity of the electoral system, in which people cast votes for party lists as well as individual candidates, the makeup of parliament won’t become clear until final results are announced on Jan. 13. Nor will the balance of power between the assembly, the Cabinet and the ruling military council.

Egyptians abroad started voting yesterday for the second round of elections, which covers Giza, Suez, Ismailia and six other governorates, the state-run Middle East News Agency reported. In Egypt, voting in that round begins on Dec. 14. The third round begins on Jan. 3 and final results are due 10 days later. Presidential elections will be held by the end of June, the army has said.

Whatever government emerges in the coming months must tackle an economy that grew at the slowest pace in at least a decade as a result of the unrest that forced Mubarak out in February and deterred tourism and investment. Gross domestic product expanded 1.8 percent in the fiscal year through June, and Egypt has spent almost half its foreign currency reserves in the past 11 months.

The pound closed the week at a seven-year low of 6.0174 per dollar. Said Hirsh of Capital Economics and Turker Hamzaoglu at Bank of America Corp. are among economists to have warned that the government may be forced to devalue the currency.

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