Egypt’s army, Brotherhood discuss president’s powers

Muslim Brotherhood’s President-elect Mohamed Mursi (C) arrives at his office in Cairo. The powers of Mursi, Egypt’s first freely elected president, have already been curbed by the army. (Photo: Reuters)

June 26, 2012, Tuesday/ 18:54:00

The Muslim Brotherhood has reached some agreements with the army on the powers of Egypt’s first Islamist president and the fate of a now-dissolved Islamist-led parliament, Brotherhood officials said on Tuesday.

The newly elected president, Mohamed Mursi, toured his palace on Monday. But after savoring the outcome of a vote that installed him in place of the Brotherhood’s enemy Hosni Mubarak, he immediately went to see the generals in the Defense Ministry in a scene that seemed to underline who really calls the shots. The Brotherhood, banned under Mubarak, sent its supporters onto the streets last week, promising open-ended protests after the Supreme Constitutional Court ordered the lower house dissolved.

That decision, backed by the army, threatened to force a new parliamentary election, which erode the bloc won by the Brotherhood and its allies, and undermine one of the biggest gains of the revolt that toppled Mubarak last year.

Islamists and others said this amounted to a military coup. The army compounded these fears by issuing a decree curbing the president’s powers just as the presidential election closed. Mursi was declared the winner on Sunday, a nail-biting week after voting ended. During the wait, the Brotherhood and the army held discreet talks, officials on both sides said.

The new president will be sworn in on Saturday, probably before the Constitutional Court, and the Brotherhood will also stage a symbolic swearing-in ceremony in Tahrir Square, according to Yasser Ali, an aide to Mursi. Presidents were previously sworn in by parliament, which is now shuttered and under military guard.

Search for compromise

The presidential election has set the stage for a tussle between the military, which has provided Egypt’s rulers for six decades, and the Brotherhood, the traditional opposition - sidelining secular liberals who drove the anti-Mubarak uprising.

“We are working on reaching a compromise on various items so all parties are able to work together in the future,” said Essam Haddad, a senior member of the Brotherhood and also an aide to Mursi.

Haddad, who accompanied Mursi on his tour of the presidential palace, said the negotiations had covered possible amendments to the army’s constitutional decree limiting the president’s powers.

“We do not accept having a president without powers. The solution being worked out now is scaling back those restrictions so that President Mursi can deliver to the people what he promised,” Haddad said.

Military officials were not immediately available to comment.

Haddad said the military would keep control of its budget and internal affairs, but the generals would have to keep their hands off an assembly charged with writing a new constitution. In its latest power grab, the army gave itself the right to veto articles of the constitution that the assembly will draft, angering the Brotherhood, which itself wants a big say.

“The negotiations involve loosening the grip of the generals on the constitutional assembly so that it can draft the new constitution without interference,” Haddad said.

A senior Brotherhood aide, who asked not to be named, said the generals had agreed to lift their veto power over the composition of the 100-member assembly, provided that about 10 of its Islamist members were replaced with technocrats favored by the military. The aide said Mursi’s team and the military council, which has ruled Egypt since Mubarak’s removal, had also agreed on how ministries should be divided in the next cabinet.

“The ministries of finance and foreign affairs would go to the Brotherhood provided they steer clear of the defense, interior and justice ministries,” the aide said.

Mursi met police commanders on Tuesday at the police academy where Mubarak’s trial was held. The police come under the Interior Ministry, run by ex-police chiefs in Mubarak’s day.

The Brotherhood has pledged to reform a ministry seen as a tool of political coercion and responsible for many past abuses. But the military has striven to clip the wings of an Islamist movement seen for decades as a danger to the state.

While it finally accepted that Mursi had defeated a former general in the presidential race, it has also appointed a general to run the presidency’s financial affairs.

Egypt’s Mursi never made overtures to Iran, says aide

An Iranian news agency said Egypt’s Islamist President-elect Mohamed Mursi had voiced interest in restoring long-severed ties with Tehran to create a strategic “balance” in the region, but a Mursi aide denied the interview ever took place. Iran’s Fars agency said it spoke to Mursi a few hours before Sunday’s election results were announced and quoted him saying the two countries should get closer -- comments that go counter to Western efforts to isolate Tehran over its nuclear program.

“We must restore normal relations with Iran based on shared interests, and expand areas of political coordination and economic cooperation because this will create a balance of pressure in the region,” the semi-official news agency quoted Mursi as saying in a transcript of the interview. Yasser Ali, a Mursi aide, told Reuters: “There was never a meeting with the Iranian news agency Fars and what was taken as statements has no basis in truth.” On its web page, Fars published a transcript and an audio of the conversation. Reuters was unable to verify the recording but the man purported to be Mursi did not sound exactly like him. Dubai/Cairo Reuters

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