- Associated Press - Sunday, February 13, 2011

CAIRO (AP) — 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 after forcing Hosni Mubarak out of power.

The military rulers who took over when Mr. Mubarak stepped down Friday and the caretaker government also set as a top priority the restoration of security, which collapsed during the 18 days of protests that toppled the regime.

The protesters have pressed the ruling military council, led by Defense Minister Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, to immediately move forward with the transition process by appointing a presidential council, dissolving the parliament and releasing detainees.

“They have definitely started to offer us what we wanted,” said activist Sally Touma, reflecting a mix of caution and optimism among protesters, who want to see even more change, including repeal of the repressive emergency law.

Judge Hisham Bastawisi, a reformist judge, said the actions “should open the door for free formation of political parties and open the way for any Egyptian to run for presidential elections.”

Hossam Bahgat, director of the nongovernmental Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said the military’s steps were positive but warned that Egypt was on uncharted legal ground.

“In the absence of a constitution, we have entered a sort of ‘twilight zone’ in terms of rules, so we are concerned,” he said. “We are clearly monitoring the situation and will attempt to influence the transitional phase so as to respect human rights.”

The military ruling council said it will run the country for six months or until presidential and parliamentary elections can be held. It said it was forming a committee to amend the constitution and set the rules for a popular referendum to endorse the amendments.

Both the lower and upper houses of parliament are being dissolved. The last parliamentary elections in November and December were heavily rigged by the ruling party, virtually shutting out opposition representation.

The caretaker Cabinet, which was appointed by Mr. Mubarak shortly after the pro-democracy protests began on Jan. 25, will remain in place until a new Cabinet is formed — a step that is not expected to happen until after elections. The ruling military council reiterated that it would abide by all of Egypt’s international treaties signed in the Mubarak era, most importantly the peace treaty with Israel.

The caretaker government met Sunday for the first time since Mr. Mubarak stepped down.

“Our concern now in the Cabinet is security, to bring security back to the Egyptian citizen,” Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq told a news conference after the meeting.

Mr. Shafiq said the military would decide whether Omar Suleiman, who was appointed vice president by Mr. Mubarak in a failed attempt to appease protesters, would play some role in Egypt’s transition.

“He might fill an important position in the coming era,” the prime minister said. He also denied rumors that Mr. Mubarak had fled to the United Arab Emirates, saying the former president remained in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, where he went just hours after stepping down.

“In a country like Egypt, with a pharaonic legacy, having no president and no head of state is not easy,” said Amr el-Shobaky, a member of the Committee of Wise Men, a self-appointed group of prominent figures who are allied with the protesters.

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