Egyptian military dissolves parliament and suspends constitution, but says it will only keep power until elections can be held

Egypt's military leaders dissolved parliament and suspended the constitution Sunday, meeting two key demands of protesters who have been keeping up pressure for immediate steps to transition to democratic, civilian rule. (Feb. 13)
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, February 13, 2011; 12:52 PM

CAIRO - Egypt's military chiefs seized near-complete control of the country Sunday by dissolving the parliament and suspending the constitution. The leaders of the armed forces, however, said they would only keep power for six months, or until new elections can be held.

In the meantime, the Supreme Military Council said it would exercise self-asserted authority to decree new laws and maintain stability, according to a communiqué read on state television. The generals also said they would appoint a committee to overhaul the constitution and put the proposed changes to a popular vote in a referendum.

Although the declarations mean the military is grabbing absolute power, the announcements met some of the central demands made by the revolutionary movement that forced President Hosni Mubarak from office Friday.

Protesters had insisted on the dissolution of parliament, a new constitution, a transitional government and a clear timetable for Egypt to hold free and credible elections. They also asked for the repeal of Egypt's repressive 30-year-old state of emergency law; the military has previously pledged to lift it when calm returns to the country, but did not commit to a date.

The military's communiqué implied that national elections could be held within six months, but again did not specify a date.

The announcement came shortly after Mubarak's former cabinet held its first meeting since his abdication. The military ordered the cabinet to continue serving in a caretaker role until a new government can be formed.

Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq said the government's first concern was to restore order. "Our concern now in the cabinet is security, to bring security back to the Egyptian citizen," he told a press conference.

"That sense has been lost since the beginning of the events. It's been coming back, but not as quickly as we hoped."

The military communiqué also came as soldiers tangled with protesters on Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the demonstrators. Soldiers evicted demonstrators from parts of the plaza as they tried to restore a measure of normalcy to the Egyptian capital.

As daylight broke, soldiers dismantled tents from the makeshift camps that have occupied Tahrir Square since Jan. 25, when protests erupted in Cairo. Some weary demonstrators evacuated voluntarily. Others stood their ground or scuffled with soldiers, though both sides generally refrained from brute force.

By mid-morning the military had re-opened the square to traffic for the first time in three weeks. But an uneasy mood persisted. Several thousand protesters flocked back to the square as the day unfolded and regained much of their lost ground. Many said they were not ready to give up.

"We want to stay here until they fulfill our demands," said Mahmoud Sharif, 27, who had spent 10 days and nights in Tahrir.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2011 The Washington Post Company