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Islamists join call for Egypt military to go

Brotherhood now in favor of holding elections sooner

Nasser Nasser/Associated Press

Activists around Egypt have called for a general strike tomorrow, the anniversary of the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, to demand an end to military rule.

CAIRO - The Muslim Brotherhood demanded yesterday that Egypt’s military rulers cede control of the government, stepping closer to a long-anticipated confrontation between the ruling generals and the Islamist-dominated Parliament.

In a statement on its website and a television interview with one of its senior leaders, the Brotherhood called for the military to allow the replacement of the current prime minister and Cabinet with a new coalition government formed by Parliament, which would amount to an immediate handover of power.

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The Brotherhood, the formerly outlawed Islamist group that now dominates Parliament, had previously said it was content to wait for the June deadline by which the generals had pledged to turn over power, which they seized with the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. And signs were accumulating of a general accord between the military and the Brotherhood over the terms of a new constitution expected to be ratified before the handover.

The Brotherhood’s shift comes on the eve of tomorrow’s anniversary of Mubarak’s downfall, when other activists around the country have called for a general strike to demand the end of military rule - a call the Brotherhood has previously resisted.

But the group is also changing its position at a time when the military-controlled government appears overwhelmed by domestic and foreign crises, including a deadly soccer riot last week followed by five days of violent protests, a standoff with Washington that has imperiled billions of dollars in US aid and international loans, and an economy teetering on collapse.

“We must start the formation of a coalition government immediately, to deal in particular with the economic situation and the state of lawlessness in this homeland,’’ Khairat el-Shater, deputy to the Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide and one of its most influential figures, said in the online statement, which quoted an interview he gave to Al Jazeera.

Shater pointed in particular to the government’s repeated use of deadly force against civilian protesters.

“Dealing with the demonstrators violently is a mistake, a sign of weakness and mismanagement by the Ministry of Interior,’’ he said.

The Brotherhood is effectively agreeing with street protesters and liberals on the need for the military to leave power at once. But in the polarized dynamics of Egypt’s nascent democracy, liberal party leaders said yesterday that they were unwilling to form a coalition with the Islamists even to remove the military.

“The liberals would prefer to be in opposition to monitor and leave it to the Brotherhood to implement their control,’’ said Emad Gad, a leader of the liberal Social Democratic Party.

At stake in the debate over the timing of the handover is who will hold power during the drafting of a constitution and election of a president. The military has previously sought guidelines giving itself permanent political powers and immunities, and its opponents fear that it could again try to shape the constitutional process for its own benefit.

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