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Egypt's military rulers make 11th-hour power grab

The move, which came just as polls were closing in Egypt's first presidential election since Hosni Mubarak was ousted, overshadows the Muslim Brotherhood's claim of victory.

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But their attempt to deflect criticism fell on deaf ears for many in Egypt. "We look at these new powers and we think there is no way we can live with this," Mr.  Bahgat says. "There is no option but to really fight for a civilian democracy."

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High stakes for Brotherhood in dissolution of parliament

The Brotherhood is fighting SCAF's decision to dissolve the parliament, after a decision by the Supreme Constitutional Court struck down the law used to govern the elections. The FJP held almost half the seats in the body, whose election was one of the only achievements of nearly a year and a half of political transition.

SCAF, the group of generals that has been ruling Egypt since last year's popular uprising, staked out its new powers by issuing amendments to the temporary constitution adopted by referendum in March 2011.

The amendment puts the military council in full control of all matters related to the military, avoiding civilian oversight. It also cements the current membership of SCAF, ensuring that the newly elected president does not chair the council, as he did before the uprising. The document states that the president cannot declare war without the approval of SCAF.

It also gives the president and SCAF power to commission the armed forces to assume law enforcement duties, reinforcing a decision issued by the Justice Ministry last week to allow military police to arrest citizens for a wide range of offenses, including those as minor as traffic violations.

Veto power over every article drafted for new constitution

Perhaps the most long-range impact of the declaration is the control it gives the military over the process of writing Egypt’s new constitution. An assembly elected by the parliament last week to write the document may remain unless it faces obstacles hindering it from completing its work, according to the declaration. In that case, the SCAF would appoint a new assembly.

In either case, the military council gives itself veto power over every article of the new document. SCAF, along with the prime minister, Supreme Judicial Council, and one-fifth of the assembly, have the right to object to any article of the new constitution. If the assembly does not revise the article, it gives the Supreme Constitutional Court the power to end the deadlock. Many of the members of the court were appointed by Mubarak.

New parliamentary elections should take place one month after the new constitution is adopted, and SCAF will retain legislative power until that point, according to the declaration.

“SCAF has effectively established full control over both the process and the content of the permanent constitution,” says Bahgat. "In parallel to this, SCAF has basically written into the constitution provisions that would allow for the militarization of law enforcement, powers of arrest and detention, trials of civilians, and abrogation of a criminal liability, and protected all military affairs from any scrutiny or oversight even by the elected president.”

Because of SCAF’s control over the drafting of the new constitution, what are accepted as temporary measures may end up as permanent ones, he says.

But, he adds, "I just don't see how any of these steps could be accepted even as temporary measures."


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