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Egypt’s presidential vote to be held by November

By Maggie Michael,

CAIRO — Egypt’s military rulers said Wednesday that the country’s first presidential election since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak will be held by November, giving emerging political groups about eight months to organize.

Parliamentary elections had already been set for September.

Wednesday’s announcement came 10 days after voters overwhelmingly approved a package of constitutional amendments, but many critics fear that a rapid timetable for elections could give the advantage to the most organized political forces in the country — the Muslim Brotherhood and members of the former ruling party — rather then the newly emerging forces involved in the country’s uprising.

The news also came as the military announced a 62-article interim constitution to replace the one suspended after the fall of Mubarak’s regime on Feb. 11. With the timetable for parliamentary and presidential elections, the army backed up its commitment to swiftly transfer power to a civilian democratic authority.

Many presidential hopefuls have already announced plans to run, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, Arab League chief Amr Moussa and left-wing opposition politician Hamdeen Sabahi. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood said it will not nominate a candidate.

The interim constitution stipulates the creation of a committee of 100 legal experts, academics, politicians and professionals to be selected by the new parliament to draft a new constitution, which would then go to a referendum.

Despite demands by many of the youth groups behind the 18-day uprising, the new parliament will keep a 50 percent quota of seats allocated to “farmers and workers,” a holdover from the country’s socialist past.

Amid intense debate about the identity of a new Egypt, the interim document emphasizes the country’s Islamic identity by stating in Article 2 that the state religion is Islam and that Islamic sharia law is the main source of legislation. But Article 4 bans political parties based on religious grounds.

Before announcing the interim constitution, the transitional government met a longtime demand of reformers and carried out a state media shake-up, replacing the chief editors who under Mubarak acted as his government’s cheerleaders.

Many of them, such as al-Ahram editor Osama Saraya, led media campaigns against the Jan. 25 uprising, dubbing Mubarak protesters a “destabilizing” force and exaggerating the number of government supporters marching against the protests.

Shortly after the announcement of the new appointments, journalists at one of Egypt’s oldest magazines, al-Mussawar, announced a strike to urge that their own chief editor, Hamdi Rizk, who was also known for his pro-government stances, be replaced.

Under the former government, Mubarak appointed all editors of major state-owned publications.

Also on Wednesday, two people were killed in a gun battle between villagers in the southern province of Assiut. The fight started with an argument among teenagers.

The violence highlighted rising lawlessness since Mubarak’s ouster, particularly in tribal areas.

— Associated Press

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