Egypt's military rulers commissioned a top judge Monday to form an electoral commission, starting the process of organizing the country's first elections after the popular uprising that ousted authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak.
The military decree effectively sets a timeframe for the first parliamentary elections in Egypt's transition to democracy. The commission begins work on Sept. 18, with the vote expected to follow roughly two months later, according to human rights lawyers. The decree, reported by the state news agency, did not set an exact date.
The decision settles a major dispute among various political factions over whether elections should come before or after the writing of a constitution. Many liberals fear well-organized Islamist groups are poised to win big in parliament and hence influence the writing of the country's post-revolution constitution.
"This is a strong indication that the military council is still committed to holding elections first," said Hafez Abou Saada, the head of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, which monitored previous elections.
As an apparent compromise, the ruling military council said it will prepare a document that would introduce guiding principles to prevent any one group from heavily influencing the new constitution.
The council has said it will transfer power to an elected civilian government within six months of taking over the country's affairs in February, when Mubarak was ousted. But they have not yet adopted an election law, which sets procedures.
The military designated the head of the Cairo Appeals Court to begin forming the electoral commission. According to law, the acting head of that court presides over the commission. Currently, Judge El-Sayed Omar heads the court. The commission will prepare voter rosters, candidate lists and oversee a one-month campaigning period.
Also Monday, in a sign of the difficulty the interim prime minister faces in meeting the protest movement's demands to purge Mubarak loyalists from the government, the premier postponed the swearing-in of his new Cabinet for further consultations.
Essam Sharaf named 13 new ministers and two deputies under pressure from protesters demanding a purge of remnants of the former regime. They were expected to be sworn in Monday before the military rulers.
State television dubbed the new government "The Revolution Cabinet," but many protesters saw the changes as insufficient and believe Sharaf's authority has been eclipsed by the powerful military council.
Tension has been on the rise in Egypt over what many perceive as the military rulers' reluctance to act against Mubarak and his loyalists. In one of the most sustained campaigns to pressure the military since they took charge in February, protesters have camped out in Cairo's Tahrir Square for nearly two weeks demanding an overhaul of government.
There were reports some protest leaders were still negotiating further changes to Sharaf's Cabinet.
Late Monday, Sharaf was taken for medical examination because of exhaustion, said Cabinet spokesman Mohammed Hegazi, the state news agency reported. He did not elaborate.
The state news agency said Sharaf has postponed the ceremony for consultations with other ministers. It gave no date for the new ceremony.
The Cabinet's official Facebook page said the delay was because the newly nominated antiquities minister declined the job. Archeologists had threatened to go on strike if he was sworn in because they said he was not qualified.
Abdel-Fattah el-Banna had been named as new antiquities minister replacing Zahi Hawass, who became the face of Egyptian archaeology in a long career but who was seen as too close to the Mubarak regime. El-Banna was often in Tahrir square during the protests.