Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said on Thursday, after meeting Egypt's military rulers and political parties, the army was unlikely to surrender all of its powers by mid-2012, highlighting the potential for further power struggles.
The military council, in power since an uprising ousted President Hosni Mubarak in February, has faced mounting public anger over what is widely viewed as stalling and mismanagement of the transition period.
Dozens of protesters demanding an end to army rule have been killed in bouts of violence in the past 11 months.
"I think to have an abrupt change in the totality of the military authority at the end of June or this year is more than we can expect," Carter told Reuters in an interview.
"A clear message has to go out that in the future for Egypt, whenever that time comes, there will be complete civilian control over all aspects of the government affairs and the military will play its role under the direction of an elected president and an elected parliament."
Public dismay pushed the ruling generals to accelerate the timetable to relinquish power, pledging to stand aside by mid-2012. But many dissidents say the military is keen to preserve its privileges and broad business interests.
Carter, 87, is in Cairo with a group from his human rights organisation, the Carter Center, to help monitor the end of the final round of Egypt's first parliamentary elections since Mubarak was ousted.
"My guess is that the military would like to retain as much control as possible for as long as possible, still accepting the results of the revolution and the election," he said.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate said he met with Egyptian political parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood, leading in the parliamentary vote, who also foresaw the military rulers holding on to power beyond the scheduled June date.
"When I talked with the Muslim Brotherhood and others, they contemplate a period extended beyond the end of June where the military might have some special privileges," he said.
"But they should be terminated at the end of a certain period, and the permanent limits on the military should be clearly expressed in a constitution to be written in the next two or three months."
The new parliament's first job will be appointing a 100-strong assembly to write a new constitution which will define the president's powers and parliament's clout in the new Egypt.
All Egypt's rulers have come from the army since a 1952 coup against the monarchy. The military keeps its internal budget and business interests from civilian oversight.
Carter's views on Egypt carry extra weight, among both the Egyptian and the international community, due to his role in the 1978 Camp David accords cementing peace between Egypt and Israel.
He said he expected Egypt's new government to focus more than the previous leadership on Palestinian rights as highlighted under the accord.
"This new government will probably be much more concerned about the rights of the Palestinians than have the previous rulers or leaders in Egypt, but in my opinion that will be conducive to a better prospect of peace between Israel and its neighbours," he said.
Carter added that any external military intervention in Syria, engulfed for ten months in a political upheaval that has killed thousands, would be a "tragic mistake".
The Arab League last month deployed a monitoring mission to Syria to assess whether Damascus is acting to end the bloody crackdown on protests. But some monitors have quit the mission over the persisting violence.
"I think the Arab League, obviously, is not a strong organisation, it doesn't have the major staff that it requires, but here the Arab League might encourage that sort of discussion to accommodate the interests of both parties and to do it peacefully," Carter said.
"But to try to resolve it by military means, as has been the case in the past, or by the intrusion of military forces from the outside, I think would be a tragic mistake." --Reuters