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Egyptian presidential hopefuls criticize slow pace of change

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CAIRO — Under a timetable that sets Egypt’s first post-revolution parliamentary elections for next spring, Egypt’s interim military rulers could remain in power for at least another year.

The prospect of prolonged military rule has many presidential hopefuls criticizing the slow pace of change since the winter uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak from his nearly 30-year rule. The military council took power in February when Mubarak stepped down and is setting the election schedule.

While parliamentary elections are set to end in mid-March, it is not yet clear when a presidential election will be held. So far, no one knows what type of government Egypt will have, what powers the new president will have and whether the country will be a parliamentary or presidential system. The rules for campaigning are still based on a 2005 law tailored to Mubarak’s rule.

The newly elected parliament is expected to hold its first sessions in March and choose a committee to write the constitution, a task that must be completed within a year.

With no elected government in place to deal with foreign countries or to be held accountable by the population, the economy will be further stalled and the security situation will remain unstable, said Amr Moussa, a front-runner for the presidency.

“It’s not quick enough,” said Moussa, the former head of the Arab League.

Moussa said the presidential vote should follow the parliamentary balloting by only a month or two. “It should not wait a full year. . . . When will the presidential elections be set? I don’t know — some talk about August, some talk about November.”

Abdel Moneim Abou el-Fotouh, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood who is running for president as an independent, agrees that a presidential election needs to come soon.

“Presidential elections should start immediately after parliamentary elections are complete, and they should be simultaneous with the writing of the constitution,” he said. “It would mean the end of military interference in the country’s political affairs. They can go back to their barracks and let the newly elected parliament and president deal with the constitution and lead Egypt through its transitional period.”

The military leadership’s lack of experience in ruling a nation is hurting Egypt’s transition, he said. “Nothing but an elected government will be accepted. Both the people and political powers are ready to take to the streets again if the need arises,” he said.

A military analyst close to the ruling council said that despite the military leaders’ desire to transfer power, they cannot until the new constitution is in place and the president has been elected. The earliest date for a presidential election would be in September 2012, he said.

“They do not want to have problems. Their plan is to leave with the minimum damage,” said retired Gen. Sameh Seif al Yazal, an Egyptian military and intelligence expert. “They want to hand over power quickly, but as per the schedule we see now, they have to stay until the end of next year.”

The military’s attempts to restore stability during the transition have been criticized by leading activists from Egypt’s 18-day uprising. The top demand of the protesters was to end the emergency law that allowed authorities to arrest Egyptians for no reason. Instead, the council has expanded that law. It has arrested more than 10,000 people and tried them in hasty military proceedings, practices that critics say are human rights abuses.

But the government did continue to meet one of the protesters’ key demands on Wednesday, when Egypt’s former information minister, Anas al-Fiqi, was convicted of corruption and sentenced to seven years in prison. State television chief Osama el-Sheikh was also found guilty and sentenced to five years, according to state media.

They join a growing number of Mubarak officials who have been convicted on corruption-related charges. Mubarak and his interior minister, Habib al-Adli, are on trial in the killing of more than 800 protesters during the uprising.

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