, CAIRO,Mar 31 – Egypt will hold presidential elections by November, the country\’s military rulers announced on Wednesday, as they seek to transfer power gradually to an elected leadership.
Presidential polls will be organised "within a month or two" of a parliamentary vote already timetabled for September, General Mamduh Shahin, a member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces told reporters.
The military council took power in Egypt when veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak quit on February 11 following 18 days of nationwide anti-government protests.
Shahin made the announcement as he unveiled a "constitutional declaration"– a set of principles that will guide the Arab world\’s most populous nation through a transitional period until a new constitution is drafted and approved.
The council will hand legislative power to parliament when it is elected in September and then executive power to the newly elected president, Shahin said.
"When the parliament is elected, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces will hand over the legislative power. Then, when the president is elected, it will hand over the rest of the powers to him," he said.
Several high profile figures, including Arab League chief Amr Mussa and former UN nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei, have stated their intentions to run for the country\’s top job.
When it took over, the military council swiftly suspended the constitution and dissolved both houses of parliament, promising to pave the way for a free democratic system.
Wednesday\’s constitutional declaration also incorporated articles easing restrictions on presidential candidates and limiting presidential terms, which were endorsed in a referendum earlier this month that marked the first popular vote since Mubarak\’s overthrow.
More than 14 million Egyptians, or 77 percent of those who voted in the March 19 referendum, had approved the changes that would bring about a swift transfer to civilian rule.
The changes approved in the referendum are by themselves uncontroversial, although critics argued they did not go far enough in overhauling the Mubarak-era charter.
The president will serve a maximum of two four-year terms and will no longer have the power to refer civilians to the military courts.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the largest opposition movement in the country and officially banned in the Mubarak era, used its new found freedom, huge influence and organisational skills, to campaign for a "yes" vote.
But youth groups that spearheaded the protests which forced Mubarak to resign had called for a "no" vote, aruging that the timetable set by the military was too tight for them to organise at grass roots level, tipping the balance in favour of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The declaration also maintained the fact that Islamic Sharia law would be the principal source of legislation, and Islam was the religion of the state.
These clauses were not expected to be changed, but they are likely to be a cause of concern to the country\’s minority Coptic Christians who complain of systematic discrimination and marginalisation.
Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt\’s 80 million population have been the target of several sectarian attacks.
But the declaration also stated that Egypt would be a democratic state, that would guarantee freedom of faith, opinion and media.
Shahin already announced that a state of emergency in force almost continuously for the past 50 years would be lifted before the September parliamentary election.
The emergency was imposed after the 1981 assassination of Mubarak\’s predecessor Anwar Sadat by Islamist gunmen at a military parade and was never lifted.
Human rights groups have consistently denounced the emergency which gives police wide powers of arrest, suspends constitutional rights and curbs non-governmental political activity.
"Parliamentary and presidential elections will not be held under the state of emergency," Shahin said on Monday.