Leader: Egypt to have presidential elections first

By Sarah El Deeb

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Jan. 26 2014 12:00 a.m. MST

Egyptian relatives gather around the coffin of a man killed during Saturday's clashes between protesters and security forces at the Zeinhom morgue in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014. Egyptian officials said Sunday that the death toll from clashes between security forces and protesters on the third anniversary of the country's 2011 uprising has risen to at least 49.

Aly Hazzaa, El Shorouk, Associated Press

CAIRO — Egypt's interim president announced Sunday that the country will hold presidential elections before parliamentary polls, promising that a rise in "dark terrorism" won't derail a transition to democracy following a July 3 popularly backed military coup.

The announcement, expected after weeks of speculation, comes as many think army chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi will run for president after leading the popularly coup that toppled Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

But Egypt remains dangerously divided, as seen in clashes Saturday that pitted security forces and civilians who back the interim government against Morsi, killing 49 people. There has also been a rise in militant attacks, including one on Sunday that killed three soldiers in the country's lawless Sinai Peninsula.

In a brief nationally televised speech, Interim President Adly Mansour said he will ask the Egypt's election commission to open the door for presidential candidates to register. Egypt's newly adopted constitution calls for the first election to be held within 90 days of its passage, or before the end of April, with the parliamentary polls held before end of July.

There have been growing calls for el-Sissi to run, with many among Egypt's turmoil-exhausted public saying only a strongman can deal with the country's myriads of problems, like restoring stability and legitimizing the interim government, installed after Morsi's ouster.

"The country needs a strong president, more than it needs a parliament or elected lawmakers," said Omar Gamaleddin, a Cairo resident. "This is a good decision."

The head of Al-Nour, the ultraconservative Islamist Salafi party, said putting the presidential election first is the consensus among political groups in Egypt. Younes Makhyoun told The Associated Press that his party had campaigned for keeping parliamentary elections first, but has accepted the majority decision.

"We would have preferred a parliament first so that the coming president doesn't combine legislative and executive powers at the same time," Makhyoun said. "We must now think of the future. ... The declared goal is that the people now need a president more than a parliament to have the leadership necessary to achieve stability."

Makhyoun said his party has not yet decided whether it will back a potential el-Sissi's bid for the presidency. He added that the next president is expected to deal with a number of challenges, including demands for social justice and more freedoms, as well as dealing with violent groups seeking to destabilize Egypt.

"We don't a president to do everything alone. We want to establish for the principle of a country of institutions, and not a president that works on his own," Makhyoun said.

The general has not yet made a formal announcement. He would have to quit his post as defense minister before launching a campaign for the presidency. Under the new constitution, a president can serve a maximum of two four-year terms.

Ecstatic crowds gathered across the country Saturday in government-sponsored rallies marking the third anniversary of the start of Egypt's 2011 revolution, with many openly calling for el-Sissi to run. But the celebrations competed with widespread clashes that struck across the country at the same time. Morsi supporters continue to contest the toppling of Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood-backed government.

Saturday's clashes killed at least 49 people, health officials said Sunday.

The interim authorities have responded with an intense crackdown on the continued protests, and are facing a surge in terrorist attacks, which they blame on the Brotherhood and its radical Islamist allies. The government has already labelled the Brotherhood as a terrorist group, a designation rebuffed by the group that insists it is pursuing peaceful means to challenge authorities.

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