Mohammed al-Assar, Mamdouh Shahin

The United States is expressing concern about the Egyptian military’s move to limit the new president’s powers and expand its own.

Both the U.S. State Department and the Defense Department weighed in Monday on the new Constitutional Declaration issued by Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which observers say makes the country’s incoming leader largely ceremonial.

“We believe Egypt’s transition must continue and that Egypt is made stronger and more stable by a successful transition to democracy,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement. “We have, and will continue, to urge the SCAF to relinquish power to civilian-elected authorities and to respect the universal rights of the Egyptian people and the rule of law.”

Final results from Egypt’s presidential runoff election are not expected until later this week, but Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood has already claimed victory over Ahmed Shafiq, an ally of former president Hosni Mubarak.

As the polls closed and early results from Saturday and Sunday’s vote began to show Morsi in the lead, the SCAF declared the new president would not have power over the military, and the ruling military council would have the right to pass laws until a new parliament is sworn in.

The move follows a Supreme Court decision last week to dissolve the Egyptian parliament, where the Islamist party had held a majority. Muslim Brotherhood supporters and other activists who joined the revolution that forced longtime leader Mubarak to step down last year are accusing the military of carrying out a ‘soft coup.’

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. is “particularly concerned” by decisions that appear to prolong the military’s hold on power.

“This is a critical moment in Egypt, and the world is watching closely,” Nuland said, adding “there can be no going back on the democratic transition.”

“The United States stands with the Egyptian people in their aspiration to choose their own leaders,” she said, quoting the sentiments of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Nuland said the U.S. is calling on the SCAF to restore popular and international confidence in the democratic transition process by following through on their commitments.

That includes, she said, an inclusive constitutional drafting process, the timely seating of a democratically-elected parliament, and the swift, permanent transfer of power to a civilian government.

The SCAF pushed back Monday against accusations that it is overstepping its authority and said the situation is being exaggerated. During a press conference in Cairo, Major General Mamdouh Shahin said the military council’s amendments to its previous Constitutional Declaration were to ensure that no particular person had authority over Egypt’s legislative and executive branches. He said the president would still have the ability to veto laws.

The U.S. has provided billions in military aid to Egypt over three decades of close relations. The Defense Department spokesman said the U.S. wants that relationship to continue, but that it will be closely monitoring the SCAF’s next moves.

 Egyptian Military Powers Concern US

Kate Woodsome

Kate has been covering international news from Cuba to Cambodia for more than a decade, living and working in Havana, Managua, Phnom Penh, Hong Kong and beyond. She's now tracking the Middle East from VOA's Washington headquarters, but is always hungry to return to the field.