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Egypt parties to review army vote concessions

Oct 2, 2011, 6:43 a.m.

By Tamim Elyan

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian political parties, seeking to keep former allies of deposed President Hosni Mubarak out of parliament, meet on Sunday to review concessions on election rules offered by the military.

The ruling army council said it would amend a law banning parties from fielding candidates as independents, set a clearer timetable for a move to civilian rule and consider ending military trials for civilians.

The army's concession comes a day before a deadline set by the parties, which has threatened to boycott the polls unless the army changes the election law to allow them to field candidates both on party lists and for seats allocated to individuals.

Mubarak's former allies, many of them local notables with enduring clout in their areas, have been spurned by most parties, leaving them with few options to get re-elected to parliament apart from running as independents.

"I believe the alliance (of parties) will accept these concessions," Essam el-Erian, deputy head of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party, told Reuters on Sunday.

"Boycotting the elections was a threatening option to pressure the military council, not a serious one," he said. "Political parties are established to participate in elections, not to boycott them."

The army enjoyed widespread support for maintaining order after Mubarak was toppled in February and for promising to respect demands for democratic change. But Egyptians have grown more vocal in criticizing its handling of the transition period.

Thousands packed central Cairo on Saturday to keep up pressure on the military to sideline Egypt's discredited old elite before the elections, designed to usher in civilian rule.

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest political force, had said on its website that it would not join the protest, but social websites said many of its young members ignored the call.

Egypt's parliamentary elections are due to begin on November 28.

CONSTITUTION PRINCIPLES

Laying out the timetable for the transition of power, the military council said on Saturday that the lower house of parliament would begin its work in the second half of January and the upper house, or Shura Council, on March 24.

A joint meeting of both houses would take place by the first week of April to choose the composition of a constituent assembly that would draft a new constitution.

"We won't stop before those who speak and criticize. Nothing stops us and we will carry Egypt to stability," said Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the military council, during a visit to the city of Fayoum.

The parties and the military council agreed on Saturday to lay down non-binding guidelines for the new constitution, ending a dispute between liberals and Islamists over some of the document's principles.

Liberal and leftist groups have been demanding guarantees that the new constitution will ensure a civil state, fearing that any future Islamic majority could push through the creation of a theocracy.

Islamists argue that laying down such rules before the elected constituent assembly meets is undemocratic and against the popular will.

"The meeting ended the debate over supra-constitutional principles and they will be announced once we agree on them," said Mohamed Morsi, head of Freedom and Justice, in a statement on the Brotherhood's official website, Ikhwan Online.

Presidential candidates would be allowed to nominate themselves a day after the new constitution is approved through a referendum, MENA added.

Elections, which under Mubarak were marred by ballot stuffing, vote buying and widespread intimidation, may be monitored by foreign non-governmental organizations and media, it said.

The military had previously said it would not permit international monitoring of the elections.

The army also said it would consider ending military trials for civilians and would study the status of an emergency law criticized by rights groups for handing the authorities sweeping powers of arrest and detention.

It has previously said the law would stay in force until next year. Six presidential hopefuls said in a joint statement on Thursday that the state of emergency legally expired on Friday.

(Writing by Edmund Blair and Tom Pfeiffer; Editing by Rosalind Russell/Ruth Pitchford)

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