Rights group blasts Egypt military over power grab

Associated Press
Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood supporters chant slogans and one carries a poster with a picture of presidential candidate, Mohammed Morsi and Arabic that reads "Mohammed Morsi, president for Egypt, revival is the will of the people," during an anti-ruling military council demonstration in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt Wednesday, June 20, 2012. Authorities delayed Thursday's planned announcement of the winner of Egypt's presidential election, likely for several days, hiking tension as allegations of fraud swirled and each candidate declared he was the victor. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
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CAIRO (AP) — Human Rights Watch said on Thursday that recent moves by Egypt's ruling generals suggested that there would not be a "meaningful" handover of power to civilian rule by July 1 as promised.

The military council that took over from Hosni Mubarak 16 months ago has over the past week given itself the role of legislator, the right to arrest civilians, control over drafting a new constitution and stripped the next president of many significant powers. It has also taken several steps to shield the military from civilian oversight.

The sense of political uncertainty is heightened by the failure of Egypt's election commission to announce a winner in weekend presidential elections. Both candidates have claimed victory and the planned announcement of results on Thursday has been indefinitely postponed.

The military had already been blamed by critics for mismanaging the 16-month transition since Mubarak's overthrow and a host of gross rights abuses, including the killing of protesters, torturing detainees and hauling more than 12,000 civilians for trial before military tribunals since it took power.

In a statement, the New York-based group said the generals created conditions that are "ripe" for further abuses.

"The generals' relentless expansion of their authority to detain and try civilians now goes far beyond their powers under Hosni Mubarak," the statement quoted the group's Middle East director, Joe Stork, as saying.

The HRW report follows similar criticism of Egypt's military in recent days by Amnesty International and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, a frequent visitor of Egypt who has repeatedly met with its ruling generals.

Carter said Tuesday in a statement that he was "deeply troubled by the undemocratic turn that Egypt's transition has taken." He pointed to the dissolution of parliament and the elements of martial law.

The army has pledged to hand over power to the winner of Saturday and Sunday elections. But victory has been claimed by both candidates, Mubarak's last prime minister Ahmed Shafiq, a longtime friend and admirer of the ousted leader, and Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, a fundamentalist group that Mubarak cracked down on for most of his 29 years in power.

Both sides have unleashed a flurry of allegations of fraud, and the delay has increased fears among Egyptian activists that the military might be trying to hand the victory to Shafiq. Muslim Brotherhood supporters have staged demonstrations in central Cairo on Tuesday and Wednesday in support of Morsi and against the military. Large segments of the media have meanwhile been painting a grip picture of the country's future if the Brotherhood candidate was to take the land's highest job.

In a separate development, a court in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria on Thursday convicted and sentenced a policeman to 15 years in prison for his part in the death in custody of a member of the ultraconservative Salafi religious trend. Three other defendants were convicted in absentia and sentenced to life in prison in connection to the 2011 death of el-Sayed Belal.

It was a rare case of a stiff prison sentence for a policeman convicted of abuse.

Police torture was a major grievance of the protesters who led the uprising against Mubarak. Belal was brought in for questioning in connection to the bombing of a Christian church in Alexandria on New Year's day 2011 that left 21 people dead. Lawyers for his family said Belal died from torture while in police custody.

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