Muslim Brotherhood plans political party in Egypt

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CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s long-banned Muslim Brotherhood said Tuesday it intends to form a political party once democracy is established, as the country’s new military rulers launched a panel of experts to amend the country’s constitution enough to allow democratic elections later this year.

The military is trying to push ahead quickly with a transition after President Hosni Mubarak resigned Friday in the face of 18 days of unprecedented popular protests that massed hundreds of thousands. The panel is to draw up changes at a breakneck pace — within 10 days — to end the monopoly that Mr. Mubarak’s ruling party once held, which it ensured through widespread election rigging.

Generals from the Armed Forces Supreme Council, which now rules Egypt, said Tuesday the military wants to hand power to a government and elected president within six months, the firmest timetable yet outlined.

The initial constitutional changes may not be enough for many in Egypt calling for the current constitution, now suspended by the military, to be thrown out completely and rewritten to ensure no one can once again establish autocratic rule. Two members on the panel said the next elected government could further change the document if it choses.

The military’s choices for the panel’s makeup were a sign of the new political legitimacy of the Muslim Brotherhood, the fundamentalist group that was the most bitter rival of Mr. Mubarak’s regime. Among the panel’s members is Sobhi Saleh, a former lawmaker from the Brotherhood who is seen as part of its reformist wing.

The eight-member committee held its opening meeting with Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi on Tuesday. The panel includes three judges from the Supreme Constitutional Court — one of them a Christian — and legal experts, one of its members, scholar Mohammed Hassanein Abdel-Al, told the Associated Press.

The panel is headed by Tareq el-Bishri, considered one of Egypt’s top legal minds. A former judge, he was once a secular leftist but became a prominent thinker in the “moderate Islamic” political trend. He is respected on both sides as a bridge between the movements.

The military is now also urging an end to labor strikes that began spreading wildly across the country last week. The strikes gave an added element of turmoil that which along with rapidly mushrooming protests, prompted the military to force Mr. Mubarak into retirement. Strikes have continued since even as the political protests themselves have largely ended.

The Supreme Council warned on Tuesday that continuing strikes and protests would be “disastrous,” arguing that only when they stop could the economic and social ills plaguing the country could be tackled, the state-run Middle East News Agency (MENA)  reported.

In a nod to the anger over corruption that is fueling strikes and protests, the council acknowledged how widespread the malfeasance was in the ousted regime.

“No one expected that the corruption was of this size,” the council said, according to MENA. “The council does not have a magic wand to end it immediately. But at the same time, it will not allow new corruption or the growth of existing corruption.” MENA cited “sources close to the council,” but it appeared to be quoting at least some of the council’s generals.

The dozens of strikes, many hitting state agencies and industries, are a further blow to Egypt’s economy, damaged by the three weeks of upheaval. Egypt’s Foreign Minster Ahmed Aboul Gheit called on the international community to provide aid to boost Egypt’s economy.

The strikes eased Tuesday, mainly because an Islamic holiday meant state offices and businesses were closed. Still, smaller protests by hundreds continued in at least seven provinces outside Cairo, including by government workers and police over pay. Fishermen in the Nile Delta demanded an end to restrictions on where they can fish in a lake north of the capital. Sugar cane growers in the southern city of Luxor demonstrated demanding higher prices for their crops.

Throughout Mubarak’s rule, his regime kept a stranglehold on Egyptian politics.

Any opposition parties had to be approved by a commission run by his ruling National Democratic Party. The constitution stiffly restricts who can run for president, preventing a real challenger. It also lifted almost all independent supervision of elections, opening the door to vote rigging that ensured the most recent parliament — now dissolved — was almost entirely made up of Mubarak’s ruling party.

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