U.S. officials said Monday that they were "deeply concerned" by an Egyptian military decree giving its ruling generals sweeping powers to pass laws and decide whether to go to war, issued just as Egyptians finished casting their votes for its new president.
“We have, and will continue, to urge the [Supreme Council of the Armed Forces] to relinquish power to civilian-elected authorities and to respect the universal rights of the Egyptian people and the rule of law,” Pentagon Press Secretary George Little told reporters.
The decree was widely seen as a way of undercutting the Muslim Brotherhood, which on Monday claimed its candidate Mohamed Morsi won a presidential runoff held over the weekend. The edict crimps the powers of the new president, stopping him from overseeing the military budget or declaring war without the agreement of the ruling generals. Government critics slammed the decree as a power grab; some even called it a coup.
The ruling military council gained its new powers in the wake of a court decision last week that dissolved the Egyptian parliament, which had tilted toward Islamists. The U.S. State Department said it was troubled by that earlier step, which led the military council to block the parliament building.
"This is a critical moment in Egypt, and the world is watching closely," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland was quoted as saying by the Associated Press on Monday. "We are particularly concerned by decisions that appear to prolong the military's hold on power."
The military council has said it will transfer power by the end of the month, inaugurating the new president. The U.S., which has long nurtured a close relationship with the Egyptian military and grants it more than $1 billion annually in aid, says it will be eyeing that handoff.
“We plan to continue those close contacts and cooperation,” Little said. “That being said, we need to see where things go.”
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Egyptian supporters of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi hold a poster that reads, "'Mohamed Morsi, president for Egypt," in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Monday. Credit: Amr Nabil / Associated Press.