Egypt’s presidential vote that starts on May 23-24 will mark the final stage of a transition to civilian rule from generals who took charge after Hosni Mubarak was ousted last year.
Ex-foreign minister Amr Moussa, a leading contender for Egypt’s presidency, said on Sunday he would give the military a voice in key policies via a national security council, a move to reassure ruling generals about their status after a power transfer.
Moussa, a self-described liberal nationalist whose main election rivals are Islamists, also said Egypt needed a president with lobbying skills to work effectively with the Islamist-dominated parliament and other institutions after decades of autocratic government.
But analysts say the military, from whose ranks Mubarak and all other presidents have been drawn for the past six decades, will seek influence from behind the scenes for years to come, particularly over security and foreign policy in a country that in 1979 became the first Arab state to make peace with Israel despite its ongoing occupation into Palestinian territories.
Moussa, 75, said the national Security Council, to be chaired by the president, would include senior cabinet ministers plus top military officers. It would have a broad national security brief, he told a news conference.
“It has to consider all issues pertaining to national security and not only issues of defense or war, etc, but issues like water, issues like relations with neighbors,” said Moussa, a former head of the Arab League.
“(The council) will be a power house on those issues of major priority for the national life,” he added.
Moussa did not give specifics on what he saw as the next president’s relations with the military, saying: “This is a time of crisis and this is not the issue that we have to discuss.”
Egypt’s old constitution included a national defense council in a section on the armed forces that was limited to the “safety and security” of Egypt. It did not list members.
Moussa said the next president should “avoid confrontational policies” and needed to reach out to a broad range of players, unlike previous holders of the office like Mubarak who ruled with rubber-stamp parliaments and ignored or jailed opponents.
“The president used to say do this and it is done, now it is not the case, but we have to sit together, we have to agree on certain issues and I believe the art of lobbying will have to be mastered from now on,” he said.
Moussa’s main rivals are the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi, Islamist Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, and Mubarak’s last prime minister and an ex-air force commander, Ahmed Shafiq.
Asked about his Islamist rivals, Moussa said: “I want to do something for Egypt coming from all angles of thinking and of policymaking, not a certain one.”
He added that Egypt, after years of mismanagement, “should not get into an experiment that has not been tried before.”
Analysts say that while liberals and Islamists alike would like to curb the army’s political influence, any next president is likely to focus on more pressing economic issues and avoid confrontation with the military over foreign policy.
The army has said it will hand over power and return to barracks by July 1, leaving the new president in charge.
But various comments from army officials, usually in private, or from the military-appointed cabinet have indicated that the military wants a longer term role in protecting broad interests that range from businesses to national security, and wants to guide state affairs that could impact them.
“We work with everyone for the sake of Egypt, which will not submit to any one person or particular group, but will be for all Egyptians according to the popular will,” Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the military council, told troops on Saturday, according to the official news agency.
Western diplomats say one of the army’s worries is that a new civilian government could jeopardize the peace treaty with Israel, a deal which was a cornerstone of Mubarak’s policy.