Egypt's military ruler considering a referendum on immediate transfer of power

In the wake of a violent weekend in Egypt, Egypt’s military ruler, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, said he would allow a referendum on the immediate transfer of power to a civilian authority if people demand it, according to a breaking news report from the Associated Press. That’s a change from just a few hours ago, when Tantawi announced that presidential elections would take place before June 30 of next year and that he would transfer power sometime after that.

That announcement already marked a pseudo-concession on the part of Tantawi, who previously had said the power transfer might occur as late as 2013. Given the military’s original promise to hand back power in six months, however, protesters in Tahrir Square understandably weren’t satisfied:

“We are not leaving, he leaves,” chanted the protesters, demanding that military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and his council of generals immediately give up power to a civilian transitional authority. “The people want to bring down the field marshal,” they shouted in scenes starkly reminiscent of the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak nine months ago.

The drama comes a week before the first parliamentary elections since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak nine months ago.

“Our demands are clear. We want the military council to step down and hand over authority to a national salvation government with full authority,” said Khaled El-Sayed, a member of the Youth Revolution Coalition and a candidate in the upcoming parliamentary election. The commander of the Military Police and the Interior Minister, who is in charge of the police, must be tried for the “horrific crimes” of the past few days, he added.

It’s a bit of a mixed blessing that Tantawi is looking to move up the transition rather than delay it. The Heritage Foundation’s Jim Carafano explains:

The [Supreme Council of the Armed Forces], which has ham-handedly over-reached in an effort to preserve the army’s institutional interests and shield it from civilian oversight, now must make major concessions to calm the tense political situation and facilitate the parliamentary elections. Unfortunately, even if the SCAF survives this crisis, the army’s weakened political status is likely to undermine its ability to act as a restraining influence on the Islamist political parties that are widely expected to win the most votes in the coming elections.

Expect Egypt to see play at tonight’s debate.