- Associated Press - Sunday, June 19, 2011

CAIRO — Calls are growing in Egypt for a delay of September’s parliamentary elections to give parties formed in the aftermath of Hosni Mubarak’s ouster more time to organize.

The push, which now has the prime minister’s backing, is aimed at keeping the well-organized Muslim Brotherhood from dominating the next legislature and exerting disproportionate Islamist influence over the drafting of a new constitution.

The debate over the timing of the elections and the new constitution is a political novelty in a country where elections under the 29-year rule of Mr. Mubarak, the former president, were routinely marred by widespread fraud and their results known before the first ballot was cast.

The election debate is just one of a host of challenges Egypt is grappling with in the chaotic transition period to what many hope will be a freer, more democratic Egypt. There are also disagreements over the extent to which police powers should be curtailed, how best to halt economic deterioration and how to divvy up the nation’s wealth among about 85 million people.

The debate itself seems remarkable, given the authoritarian system that was in place until just a few months ago. It is another sign that post-Mubarak Egyptians have cast off decades of political apathy and have new faith in the political process.

However, it also could be a trigger for renewed unrest if the question is not resolved in a way that satisfies everyone or at least many of the players.

Interim Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, in an interview posted Sunday on Egyptian news website Masrawy.com, said he preferred a delay in the vote to allow the nation’s “political landscape” to take shape. He also hinted that drafting a new constitution before the elections would not be a bad idea, either.

Mr. Sharaf, however, made clear that a delay is his personal preference and that his Cabinet would do everything it can to ensure a fair and secure vote, if the election goes ahead as scheduled.

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest and best-organized political group, reacted angrily to Mr. Sharaf’s comments, with a top figure in the group saying the prime minister should resign before expressing personal views.

“The people want to transfer power to a civilian administration. This is in the interest of the country,” said Sobhi Saleh, a Brotherhood leader who helped draft amendments to Egypt’s current constitution that were voted on in March. “The Muslim Brotherhood are against postponement and against drafting the constitution before elections.”

The military, which took power when Mr. Mubarak stepped down in February, has yet to say where it stands on the elections issue, but it has been adamant that no new constitution would be drafted before legislative elections are held.