Egypt's military rulers said on Wednesday that the country's first presidential elections since the ouster of longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak will be held by November, giving the country's emerging political groups up to eight months to organize.
The announcement comes 10 days after Egyptian voters overwhelmingly approved a reform package of constitutional amendments, but many critics fear the rapid timetable for elections would give a significant advantage to the most organized political forces in the country, namely the Muslim Brotherhood and members of the former ruling party _ rather then the newly emerging forces, especially among the youth, involved in the uprising.
The news came as the military's announced a new 62-article interim constitution to replace the one suspended after the fall of Mubarak's regime on Feb. 11 in a popular uprising that rocked the region. By giving a timetable for parliament and presidential elections, the army backed up its earlier commitment to swiftly transfer power to a civilian democratic authority.
The presidential elections will be a held a month or two after September's parliamentary contests, the military said.
Many presidential hopefuls have already announced their plans to contest elections, including Nobel Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, Arab League chief Amr Moussa, and longtime left-wing opposition politician Hamdeen Sabahi. Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, the country's most organized group, said it will not nominate a candidate in the presidential elections.
The interim constitution stipulates the creation of a committee of 100 legal experts, academics, politicians and professionals to be selected by the newly elected parliament to draft a new constitution, which would then be approved by a referendum.
Despite demands by many of the youth groups behind the 18-day uprising, the new parliament will keep a 50 percent quota of seats allocated to "farmers and workers," a holdover from the country's socialist past.
Amid intense debate about the identity of new Egypt, the new document emphasized the country's Islamic identity by stating in Article 2 that the state religion is Islam and the principle of the Islamic Sharia law is the main source of legislation. Article 4, however, bans political parties based on religious grounds.
Before announcing the interim constitution, the transitional government met a long-running demand of reformers and carried out a state media shake-up, replacing the old chief editors who under Mubarak era acted as his regime's cheerleaders.
Many of them, such as Al-Ahram editor-in-chief Osama Saraya, led media campaigns against the Jan. 25 uprising, dubbing anti-Mubarak protesters as a "destabilizing" force and exaggerating the number of government supporters marching the streets against the anti-government protests.
Shortly after the announcement of the new appointments, journalists in one of Egypt's oldest magazines, El-Mussawar, announced a strike to get their own chief editor Hamdi Rizk replaced, who was also known for his pro-government stances.
Under the Mubarak regime, the president personally appointed all editors of major state owned publications.
Also Wednesday, three people were killed in a gun battle between villagers in southern Egypt. Another 16 were hurt. The fight started with an argument among teenagers.
The violence highlighted rising lawlessness since Mubarak's ouster, particularly in more tribal areas, like the southern province of Asyout.
Police and soldiers rushed to the area to stop the fight. Residents threw rocks and opened fire on police and soldiers.