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Egypt to Hold Presidential Vote First as Nation Faces Unrest

Egypt Protests
The Egyptian government insists it is committed to charting a democratic course, pointing to the approval of a rewritten constitution earlier this month, as well as the planned elections. Photographer: Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Egypt’s interim president said his successor will be elected before the nation chooses a new parliament, a reversal that played into some critics’ fears about the military’s commitment to democracy.

President Adly Mansour disclosed the sequence of elections would be changed in a televised speech today, without giving dates for either vote. Some activists have voiced concern that holding a presidential vote first may allow the country’s next leader to consolidate power if no parliament is in place.

Mansour said the elections sequence was revised after a “majority” of political groups supported the move in the interest of stability. He vowed Egypt would prevail over the “terrorism” it was confronting, even if that required “exceptional” measures.

The decision may speed up an announcement by Defense Minister Abdelfatah al-Seesi on whether he will run for leader - - something millions of Egyptians have clamored for him to do since the military ousted Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in July.

Thousands cheered al-Seesi at weekend rallies marking the third anniversary of the uprising that pushed President Hosni Mubarak from power in 2011. The divisions that have rent Egypt since Mubarak’s departure have deepened since Mursi was toppled and the transitional government backed by the military began going after his Muslim Brotherhood supporters, killing hundreds and trying hundreds more, including the ousted president.

Battling Insurgency

Clashes nationwide over the weekend between security forces and Mursi loyalists who want him reinstated left at least 49 dead, according to the Health Ministry. The government is also battling an insurgency that has spread from the Sinai Peninsula to other areas of the country, including the capital, Cairo. It has blamed the violence on the Brotherhood, allegations it denies.

“Let the world know -- those who realize the reality of what is unfolding in Egypt and those who don’t or claim not to - - that we will preserve the safety and security of this country and its citizens,” Mansour said in his speech today.

Some critics of the government’s campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood, while not aligned with the group, have warned that the country is on course to return to the autocratic ways of Mubarak’s regime.

The government insists it is committed to charting a democratic course, pointing to the approval of a rewritten constitution earlier this month, as well as the planned elections.

Sinai Attack

In the latest attack, assailants killed three security personnel in Sinai today, the military said on its spokesman’s Facebook page, raising to about 70 the number of people killed over the past 72 hours.

The turmoil that has gripped Egypt since Mubarak’s ouster has undermined efforts to revive an economy stuck in the worst slowdown in two decades. Grievances over jobs and prices that helped fuel the 2011 demonstrations against Mubarak are still widespread.

Local media and analysts had predicted the presidential vote would be moved up, and the rallies yesterday, where masses called on al-Seesi to run, appeared to give the government more traction to do so.

Ziad Akl, a senior researcher at the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, said he was skeptical the move would quell unrest.

Backlash Seen

“Things will eventually backfire,” Akl said by phone. “The upcoming government will be faced with strong opposition and, therefore, incomplete legitimacy and definitely a rise in violence.”

The Brotherhood, which rocketed to power with Mursi’s 2012 election, only to see the current government brand it a terrorist organization a year later, has vowed to press ahead with peaceful protests against his overthrow.

“The priceless blood being shed by the bloody fascist coup will always be a fire that eats the oppressors and lights the revolution’s road,” the group said in an e-mailed statement. Authorities said they arrested 1,079 of the Brotherhood’s supporters yesterday.

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