CAIRO (AP) — Islamist candidate Mohammed Morsi declared victory Monday in Egypt's first free presidential election since Hosni Mubarak's ouster 16 months ago. But just as polls were closing, the ruling military council issued constitutional amendments that gave sweeping authority to maintain its grip on power and subordinate the nominal head of state.
After the last-minute power grab Sunday night, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) pledged Monday to honor its promise to hand over power to the newly elected president by the end of this month. But the constitutional amendments stripped the president of almost all significant powers. The military decreed that it will have legislative authority after a court dissolved parliament, it will control of the drafting a new constitution and will not allow civilian oversight of its significant economic interests or other affairs.
Morsi represents the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic fundamentalist group which has emerged as the most powerful political faction since the uprising. The Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party rejected the constitutional declaration, saying it was no longer within the authority of the military council to issue such a decree with less than two weeks left for the transfer of power.
In Washington, Pentagon spokesman George Little urged the ruling military to transfer full power to a democratically elected civilian government, as it pledged to do in the past.
"We are deeply concerned about the new amendments to the constitutional declaration, including the timing of their announcement as polls were closing for the presidential election," said Little.
The constitutional declaration made almost simultaneously with polls Sunday night was the third major blow in a week to hopes for a democratic transition that arose from the uprising. On Wednesday, the military gave itself broad powers to arrest civilians even on minor offenses such as traffic violations. And on Thursday, a court stacked with Mubarak-era appointees dissolved parliament.
Using its legislative authority, the military council issued another decree made public on Monday forming a new national defense council made up of 11 senior military commanders, including the defense minister, as well as the president. Though the council's mandate was not specified, it appears to be another step to limit the role of the president and enshrine the role of the military as the highest authority over national security policy.
The Freedom and Justice party also rejected the dissolution of parliament.
"The People's Assembly stands and has legislative and oversight authority," the party said in a statement posted on its website.
Maj. Gen. Mohammed al-Assar, a senior member of the ruling council, said the generals would transfer power in a "grand ceremony." He did not give an exact date or mention Morsi by name. He said the new president will have the authority to appoint and dismiss the government and that the military council has no intention of taking away any of the president's authorities.
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