In a two-hour news conference, the ruling generals did not mention election results, and they did little to undercut the main message of the decree they had issued Sunday, just minutes after polls closed. The declaration left the armed forces virtually unaccountable to civilian rule and handed them legislative authority. It also gave the generals veto power over a body tasked with writing a new constitution, as well as total control over the military’s budget and the use of force.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the Obama administration would review all aspects of Egypt’s relationship with the United States, including military and economic aid, if the generals do not move quickly toward seating a president with full powers and allowing for the election of a new parliament.
“Decisions that are taken in this crucial period are naturally going to have an impact on the nature of our engagement with the government” and with the military leadership, Nuland said.
But the spokeswoman and others acknowledged uncertainty and confusion about the prevailing state of affairs and the seemingly contradictory military statements. “The concern is that the situation is extremely murky now; even many Egyptians don’t understand it,” Nuland said.
Although the United States has long been Egypt’s primary benefactor, experts said U.S. aid is among the least of the military’s concerns at the moment.
“They are fighting for what they see as their political survival . . . to prevent a different type of elite coming to power,” said Marina Ottaway, a senior associate at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Middle East program. “What can the United States do to Egypt that essentially will make it worse for the military than having the Muslim Brotherhood in power?”
A ruling by Egypt’s constitutional court triggered the dissolution of the Islamist-dominated parliament last week. Although the generals have been widely seen as supporting that ruling, at the news conference, Maj. Gen. Mohammed el-Assar expressed regret over the move, saying that overseeing parliamentary elections had been the military council’s biggest achievement since it assumed power in February 2011.
“We were not happy with the dissolution of parliament,” Assar said. “But no one can comment on the rulings of the supreme Egyptian judiciary.” He added that although the generals had assumed legislative power until a new parliament is elected, in at least five months, the president would have the right to veto laws issued by the military council.