* Army says it wants elections, civilian rule in six months
* Once-banned Muslim Brotherhood wants "bridge of confidence"
* Mubarak's health deteriorating, report says
* Workers angered over low pay and poor working conditions
(Adds source saying Mubarak "fine", security chief's arrest)
By Andrew Hammond and Peter Millership
CAIRO, Feb 15 Egypt's military said on Tuesday
it hoped to hand over to an elected government in six months,
while the Muslim Brotherhood said emergency law should be lifted
and political prisoners freed now.
Rumours swirled about Hosni Mubarak's health. Saudi-owned
Asharq al-Awsat newspaper said it was deteriorating and the
deposed president had refused to go abroad for treatment.
A military source said Mubarak, 82, believed to be in the
Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, was "breathing". Another
Egyptian source with links to the family said he was unwell.
But a source who said he spoke to Mubarak on Tuesday
described him as "fine" and receiving telephone calls.
The military's remarks on the transition, carried by the
state news agency, were the clearest sign since Mubarak quit on
Friday that the generals are committed to a swift time frame for
fulfilling their promises of elections and democracy.
But the Islamist Brotherhood, echoing the demands of
pro-democracy activists and reformists, said it wanted the
military to carry out further steps immediately.
"We, together with the entire nation ... are in need of a
bridge of confidence between the army and the people," Essam
al-Erian, a senior Brotherhood member, told Reuters, referring
to lifting emergency law and releasing political prisoners.
On a public holiday for the Prophet Mohammad's birthday,
Egypt paused for breath as the army sought to calm revolutionary
fervour and get the country back to work. A dust storm deterred
protests that have flared since Mubarak quit on Friday.
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Facing a rash of pent-up labour demands from groups ranging
from bank staff and tour guides to policemen and steelworkers,
the new military rulers have urged people not to disrupt further
an economy jolted by the 18-day uprising against Mubarak.
The central bank said banks would remain closed on Wednesday
and Thursday after being closed on Monday because of strikes.
In another sign of potential damage to the economy, Arafa
Holding (AIVC.CA), Egypt's biggest garment exporter, said on
Tuesday it had closed its factories in Tenth of Ramadan City, in
the desert outskirts west of Cairo, till Feb. 17 due to strikes.
Some secular leaders fret that racing into presidential and
parliamentary elections in a nation where Mubarak suppressed
most opposition activity for 30 years may hand an edge to the
Brotherhood, the best-organised political group.
"The Higher Military Council expressed its hope to hand over
power within six months to a civilian authority and a president
elected in a peaceful and free manner that expresses the views
of the people," an armed forces statement said.
"The council affirmed that it does not seek power, that the
current situation was imposed on the armed forces and that they
have the confidence of the people."
A committee headed by an independent judge that met on
Tuesday has been given 10 days to draft amendments to the
constitution. The plan is to then put these to a referendum.
As the upheaval in Egypt sent shockwaves around the Middle
East, troubling global financial markets jittery about oil
supplies, clashes broke out in Bahrain and Yemen, neighbours of
the world's biggest oil exporter Saudi Arabia.
Thousands of Iranians opposed to their government rallied on
Monday in support of the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.
MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD ON TV
Existing political groupings are mostly weak and fragmented.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which under the now-suspended
constitution could not form a party, may be the most cohesive
group but its true popularity has yet to be tested.
"When the popular demand for the freedom to form parties is
realised, the group will found a political party," the
Brotherhood said in a new statement.
Signalling the transformation in Egypt, state television
aired an interview with the Brotherhood's Erian, something
unimaginable in the Mubarak era.
The Brotherhood is an Islamist group founded in the 1920s
with deep roots in Egypt's conservative Muslim society.
Washington has expressed concern about its "anti-American
rhetoric" and said it has serious disagreements with it.
Pro-democracy leaders plan a big "Victory March" on Friday
to celebrate the revolution -- and perhaps also to remind the
military of the power of the street.
Uncertainty remains over how much influence the military
will seek to exert in reshaping a corrupt and oppressive ruling
system which it has propped up for six decades.
The military has promised free and fair elections, suspended
the constitution and dissolved parliament, dismantling parts of
the apparatus that kept Mubarak in power after he replaced Anwar
Sadat, who was assassinated by Islamist radicals in 1981.
Members of the military council met editors of state-run and
independent newspapers on Tuesday in an effort to spread the
message that it was time for Egyptians to revive the economy.
Wael Ghonim, a Google executive who was detained for his
part in the uprising, said military council members had told
youth leaders on Sunday that a vote on constitutional amendments
would take place in two months, a prelude to holding elections.
To placate activists, Egypt's army has pledged to lift a
state of emergency in place throughout Mubarak's 30-year rule.
Campaigners are impatient for this to happen soon. U.S. pressure
for its immediate removal appeared however to be easing.
State news agency Mena said former Cairo security chief
Ismail al-Shaer was under house arrest, blamed for the breakdown
in security during the uprising.
It said he resigned on Monday. MENA said six other security
chiefs had been replaced by new interior minister Mahmoud Wagdy.
With anger smouldering over rising prices, low wages and
economic hardships that afflict many of Egypt's 80 million
people, the military faces a delicate balancing act in
accommodating demands unleashed by the revolution.
Protests, sit-ins and strikes have broken out at state
institutions across Egypt, including the stock exchange, textile
and steel firms, media groups, the postal services and railways.
Raising wages and subsidies on basic goods are options the
military could use to calm labour unrest, analysts said, though
such measures would throw liberal economic reforms into reverse.
In Tahrir Square, scene of clashes between protesters and
police during the revolt, traffic flowed freely on Tuesday. Army
tanks and armoured vehicles around the square and other Cairo
locations have now been sandbagged into position.
The United States, Britain and France said on Monday Egypt
had asked them to freeze the assets of former officials. Paris
and Washington said Mubarak was not on the list of officials.