Egypt's first parliamentary elections since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak will begin on Nov. 28, the country's military rulers said Tuesday in an announcement greeted with little fanfare by activists who have grown deeply suspicious of the generals' commitment to change.
The military council, which took over from Mubarak as he stepped down in February, promised it would transfer power to civilian rule within six months, but no date was announced for presidential elections that would bring an end to military rule.
The concerns reflect the broader uncertainty over Egypt's post-Mubarak course under a military council led by a man who served as Mubarak's defense minister for many years. Egypt's new revolutionary groups say the council has done little to dismantle Mubarak's legacy and bring figures of the old regime to account for corruption, human rights abuses and other crimes.
"The new parliament won't reflect the real spirit of the revolution and will provide justification for the military council to continue to be present in the background of the political scene," said Mustafa Shawki, a youth group leader.
Even more troubling for the young activists who led the uprising against Mubarak's rule, many believe the law governing the parliamentary election will enable remnants of the former regime to retain power in the post-uprising legislature.
The elections for parliament's two chambers will be staggered over several months, with the vote for the legislative People's Assembly starting Nov. 28 and the less powerful Shura Council, the chamber's upper house, on Jan. 29. The first session for the People's Assembly will be held on March 17. The Shura Council will convene on March 24.
Critics accuse the military of dragging out the process to prolong their time in power and sap the protest movement of its energy.
Youth groups are planning a protest this weekend to push for an amendment to the election law to have voters select party lists only, rather than a mix of party lists and individual candidates. Limiting the voting to party lists, they say, would make it harder for former members of Mubarak's now-outlawed ruling party to run. They say the change would also help make Egypt's politics less about personalities and more about policies.
Without those changes, some are contemplating a boycott.
There are also fears that the vote could widen the rift between Egypt's well-organized Islamist parties and the new youth-driven secular groups, who fear the religious will dominate the parliament.
Islamic groups, kept on a tight leash under Mubarak, are also critical of the new election law. But they are eager to throw their weight around in the elections and are better prepared to win a big share of seats.
Essam el-Erian, the deputy head of the Freedom and Justice party, the newly launched political arm of the country's strongest Islamist group, The Muslim Brotherhood, said the council disregarded discussions with the political groups over the shape of the new law.
But he said: "Egypt entered a new phase with this law. It is a de facto law that we have to deal with."
For him, boycotting the elections is not an option. A boycott, he says, "is a dream and hope of many who want to maintain the current state of confusion."
Without a broad consensus, a boycott of the elections appears highly unlikely.
The military rulers have accusations of their own against the protest movement. They claim some of the youth groups behind the Jan. 25-Feb. 11 uprising received training abroad and unauthorized foreign funding _ a claim that discredits the groups in the eyes of many Egyptians.
Adding to the tension was a late-night stroll Monday by the country's military ruler, Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, dressed in civilian garb in a downtown Cairo street near the epicenter of the protests that forced Mubarak out of office. Tantawi had never before appeared in public out of military uniform.
The surprise walkabout was interpreted by some as a sign that Tantawi may be entertaining ideas to shed his military uniform and present himself as a possible civilian president.
Calls to the military press office were not returned Tuesday.
"I just hope this was not the launch of a new election campaign for him," said Shady el-Ghazali Harb, a protest leader and now a founder of a new party, called al-Waai or Awareness.
The last parliamentary election under Mubarak was held in November and December last year, when the ousted leader's now-dissolved ruling party swept the vote, winning all but a handful of seats in the People's Assembly.
The vote was widely condemned as the most fraudulent under Mubarak's 29-year rule and considered one of the causes behind the 18-day popular uprising that forced him to step down on Feb. 11.
Egyptians went to the polls in March for a nationwide referendum on constitutional amendments. A decent turnout of more than 40 percent and the absence of any serious instances of fraud led many to declare it Egypt's cleanest vote in living memory.