CAIRO Egypt's vice president will meet a group of prominent independent figures Saturday promoting a solution to the country's crisis in which he would assume the president's powers for an interim period, one of the group said.
Diaa Rashwan told Reuters he and others had been invited to see Vice President Omar Suleiman to discuss solutions to the crisis based on an article of the constitution that would allow President Hosni Mubarak to hand his powers to his deputy.
Mubarak would stay on in a symbolic position under the proposal being promoted by Rashwan and a group of Egyptians calling itself the "The Council of Wise Men."
The United States, a vital Egypt ally, has said an orderly transition of power must start immediately, though it has not spelt out how it thinks that should happen. Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain have adopted a similar position.
Handing powers to Suleiman offers a potential compromise between protesters' demands for Mubarak to leave office immediately and his stated decision to stay on until the end of his term in September.
Responding to speculation that such a scenario might happen, the prime minister said Friday that it was unlikely the president would hand presidential powers to his newly appointed deputy, Al Arabiya television reported.
"We need the president to stay for legislative reasons," Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq was quoted as saying in a headline.
"The Council of Wise Men" are focusing on Article 139 of the constitution, which says the president may appoint one or more vice presidents, "define their jurisdictions and relieve them of their posts."
But Article 82 could present a legal complication. It says that while the president is able to delegate powers to a deputy, that person is not allowed to request constitutional amendments or dissolve the parliament or shura councils.
If that article holds, it would be impossible for a Suleiman-led administration to carry out the constitutional reforms promised by Mubarak in response to the protests.
Without constitutional changes, a presidential election in September would have to run under the same rules that opposition parties say stack all the cards in favor of Mubarak's ruling party and effectively rule out an effective rival bid.
Ahmed Kamal Aboul Magd, a prominent lawyer and one of the so-called Wise Men, said he had met Suleiman Friday and proposed Suleiman take Mubarak's powers. He said the vice president had not discussed it.
Amr Hamzawy, a prominent political analyst and also a member of the council, said the solution would bring about a transitional government.
"The council demands that the president hands all presidential powers to Vice President Omar Suleiman for the transitional period of power, ending with Mubarak's term," Hamzawy said.
Suleiman, 74, was appointed by Mubarak last week -- the first time he had appointed a deputy in three decades in charge of the Arab world's most populous country. It is the post Mubarak held before he became president.
Rashwan said opposition figures had expressed support for the proposal to switch powers to Suleiman. "The only way forward is for Mubarak to give up power to Suleiman," he said.
"The opposition leadership is so divided that no clear option is available outside the ruling establishment," he added.
Mubarak, 82, said Thursday he wanted to quit but that he feared his resignation would bring chaos to Egypt.
(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Louise Ireland)