Egypt Calls Early Presidential Election; Violence Spreads

(Reuters) -
An aerial view of a pro-military rally marking the third anniversary of the uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
An aerial view of a pro-military rally marking the third anniversary of the uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Egypt will hold a presidential vote before parliamentary polls, President Adly Mansour said on Sunday, in a change to a political roadmap that could pave the way for the swift election of army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Parliamentary elections were supposed to be held first under the timetable drawn up after the army overthrew President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in July following mass protests against his rule.

The decision to revise the order of elections is likely to deepen tensions in Egypt, which is struggling to cope with waves of political violence. Forty-nine people were killed in anti-government marches on Saturday, the third anniversary of the popular uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

“I have taken my decision to amend the roadmap for the future in that we will start by holding presidential elections first followed by the parliamentary elections,” interim leader Mansour said in a broadcast speech.

Critics have campaigned for a change of the roadmap, saying the country needs an elected leader to direct government at a time of economic and political crisis and to forge a political alliance before potentially divisive parliamentary elections.

Sisi is expected to announce his candidacy for the presidency within days and win by a landslide. His supporters see him as a strong, decisive figure able to stabilize Egypt.

The Brotherhood accuses him of masterminding a coup and holds him responsible for widespread human rights abuses in a crackdown against the movement which has killed up to 1,000 Islamists and put top leaders behind bars.

While tough measures against the Brotherhood have nearly crippled it, security forces have failed to contain an Islamist insurgency. Militant attacks have raised fears for the stability of Egypt, of great strategic importance because of its peace treaty with Israel and control over the Suez Canal.

Egyptians walk around an armored personnel carrier parked at a rally marking the third anniversary of the 2011 uprising in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
Egyptians walk around an armored personnel carrier parked at a rally marking the third anniversary of the 2011 uprising in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

Expected Move

A new constitution voted in earlier this month cleared the way for a change in the order of the elections by leaving open the question of which should come first.

“It was an expected move amid the growing signs that Sisi is being groomed to become the next president,” said Khaled Dawoud, a well-known liberal activist.

Mansour did not announce a date for the presidential vote. The constitution says steps towards holding the first of the elections should be begin no later than 90 days from the ratification of the document in mid-January.

Insurgents based in the Sinai Peninsula have stepped up attacks, killing hundreds since army chief Sisi ousted Morsi, Egypt’s first democractically-elected president.

Gunmen killed three Egyptian soldiers in an attack on a bus in the Sinai on Sunday, the military said, prompting a warning from the army that it would eliminate the Brotherhood, which it blames for much of Egypt’s political violence.

Anti-government demonstrations in Cairo on Saturday were attacked by supporters of the new political order and security forces, witnesses said. Of the 49 people killed, 22 Brotherhood supporters were shot dead in one district of northern Cairo, security sources said.

The violence highlighted deep divisions that have flared often since the 2011 uprising that toppled Mubarak and raised hopes of a stable democracy.

In another attack in the Sinai, five soldiers were killed on Saturday when an army helicopter crashed in the north of the peninsula in an operation against militants. Security sources said it was a missile attack, without giving details. The army has not commented on the cause of the crash.

Terrorist group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (Supporters of Jerusalem) claimed responsibility for a rocket attack on a helicopter in a statement posted online.

Egyptian authorities make no distinction between terrorist groups in the Sinai and the Brotherhood, which renounced violence in the 1970s but has been declared a terrorist group by the Egyptian government.