Egypt: Jimmy Carter says concerns remain over military

CAIRO — Former US President Jimmy Carter hailed Egypt’s legislative elections as a “great and historic event” that will “have a profound affect around the region,” but was harshly critical of the country’s current ruling military generals on his visit to the nation's capital city Friday.

Speaking to reporters in Cairo, Carter — who heads the Carter Center, a non-profit with an election observation mission here — said Egypt’s military had “responded excessively with violent force against protestors” in recent weeks, and that the army wanted to maintain “special privileges” despite pledging a swift transition to democratic rule.

"When I met with military leaders, my impression was they want to have some special privilege in the government after the president is elected," Carter said. "It may be that the military leaders are sincere in their desire to turn over authority. They may wish to retain some special privileges.”

Read more: Carter in Egypt

The role of the military, which assumed power as a caretaker government with the ousting of Hosni Mubarak last year, has been at the heart of the debate over Egypt’s democratic future.

In November, the military-appointed interim prime minister drew up a set of so-called ‘supra-constitutional principles’ which would override the authority of a civilian parliament in the drafting any new constitution.

Critics said the document gave undue influence to the military, which has by all accounts presided over a repressive and turbulent transition period.

In the Carter Center’s preliminary findings on the elections of the lower house — which took place over a period of six weeks from November to January — the organization said the military rulers’ “lack of transparent behavior has created a sense of uncertainty about their commitment to full civilian leadership."

The generals of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), the ruling military body, fired back, saying they are ready to handover power to civilian authority “on a gold platter,” according to Egyptian daily, Al-Masry Al-Youm.

Still, “despite the confusions and contrary statements,” Carter said, he is satisfied with the election results.

“The general presumption… is that the will of the people has been adequately and accurately expressed in the results of the election,” he said.

Although Islamist parties together will hold as much as 70 percent of the seats in the parliament, Carter said both the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and the ultraconservative Salafist Al-Nour party “expressed their eagerness to continue with the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.”

Carter, when he served as US President from 1977-1981, brokered the landmark Camp David Accords that ended decades of war between Egypt and Israel.

Mr. Carter said his biggest disappointment was the low number of women to be elected to parliament. While women make up roughly 50 percent of the Egyptian population of 85 million, less than 1 percent of the 498 elected parliamentarians will be women.

“We know that women comprise a much greater proportion of the Egyptian society, as well as the revolutionary efforts,” Carter said. “They have demonstrated their heroism, and they deserve a much greater role in the government.” 

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