Former President Jimmy Carter said Friday that Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and other political groups want to assume full authority over state affairs, despite efforts by the country's ruling generals to retain some power after transition to civilian rule.
The future role of the military in Egypt has been a key sticking point in the country's rocky transition to civilian rule since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in the face of popular protests last year. The ruling generals have sparred on several occasions with political groups over the issue.
"The leaders of the major political parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood, have assured me that their plans are that the final decision about a military budget and all other affairs (of the state) will be made by the parliament members and not the military," Carter said.
The 87-year-old former president also met with military leaders during his four-day trip to Egypt. He said the generals suggested they want to retain certain privileges in the future after a civilian government takes power.
Voting for the lower house of Egypt's parliament wrapped up this week. The Muslim Brotherhood other Islamist parties dominated the vote, winning more than 60 percent of the seats,
Military rulers perviously have said the parliament would not be totally representative of Egypt, and have tried on several occasions to undermine the parliament's authority to select a committee to draft the country's new constitution or appoint and fire a new government.
The stakes are high for the military, which has provided all of Egypt's modern leaders. On the line are its massive economic interests, a sizable military budget and U.S. aid, and special status from prosecution by civilians. Under Mubarak, the military's budget was a secret.
Many expect a fierce struggle over the military's future role and privileges, pitting the generals against the newly elected parliament and the youth groups who led the protests against Mubarak.
The Brotherhood, which won around 40 percent of the seats in parliament, has sent mixed signals as to its stand. Some of the group's members have made public statements indicating they may be willing to respond to the military's demands for a special status.
Many of the young revolutionary groups oppose such compromises and have grown mistrustful of the generals, particularly after their excessive use of violence against protesters and their decision to prosecute political detainees in military tribunals. Some have also pushed for a quicker transfer of power.
Carter said the military generals told him they expected to work "harmoniously" with the major elected officials to resolve such issues, and may resort to popular referendums if dialogue fails.
"The military in their comments to me said that they were not guilty of any improper acts, that there were no political detainees and that they were not being tried in military court and that the military in the future would be expecting to have some special privileges concerning their own budget and matters that affected the military authority in the future," Carter said.
A military spokesmen tried to dismiss Carter's comments, telling the Egyptian media that the generals will hand over full authority to elected officials.
Carter said according to the current schedule presidential elections are expected to be held on June 15, and nominations for these elections can begin as early as April 15. The 87-year-old former president and winner of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize was in Cairo to visit the mission of his Atlanta-based Carter Center to monitor Egypt's staggered parliamentary elections since voting started in late November.
He said the youth groups, many of whom have decided to stay away from the vote, have told him they expect to keep a close watch on the constitution writing process to ensure their basic demands are met. Otherwise, he said, they will object "strenuously" and return to the streets.
He added that despite reports of irregularities reported during the election process that the vote has been representative of the will of the people.
"This is a great and historic event not only in Egypt to form a new kind of democratic and free government but also it will have a profound effect throughout this region and it will arouse the admiration of the world if it goes through as planned," he said. "I have high hopes that Egypt in the future will set a sterling example of what democracy should be."
His greatest disappointment, he said, was the meager representation of women in the new parliament_ which may not be more than 1 percent of the 498-seat house.
"They have demonstrated with their heroism that they deserve a much greater role in the government than has been indicated by the outcome of the elections," he said.
Carter, who oversaw the signing of the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt 32 years ago, said all political parties, including the Brotherhood and the more radical Islamist Salafis, have told him they will honor the peace treaty with Israel.