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Egypt’s military rulers, who pledged in February to replace the autocracy of Hosni Mubarak with a liberal democracy, have taken another big step toward betraying that promise. On Tuesday the interim government appointed by the generals disclosed plans to impose a 22-article charter of ”principles” that would bind a constituent assembly as it drafts a new constitution. Among other things, it would prohibit parliament from supervising the military’s budget, which would remain secret, and give the armed forces a check on any government by declaring them the protector of ”constitutional legitimacy.”

The military also radically revised plans for the constitution-drafting assembly. Under the new plan, only 20 of its 100 members would come from the parliament to be elected beginning this month; the other 80 would be chosen by the military. This provision, which violates a charter approved by Egyptians in a national referendum in March, was accompanied by others giving the army the right to reject any constitutional article it disapproves of and to dissolve the constituent assembly if it does not produce a document acceptable to the generals in six months.

If sustained, the new ”constitutional principles” will go a long way toward preserving the military-backed regime that has ruled Egypt since 1952 — and that Egyptians thought they had ended with their 18-day uprising. It will render the scheduled democratic elections virtually meaningless, since those elected will not have the right either to govern the country or prepare its new constitution. And it could prompt another uprising; angry political parties already have called for mass demonstrations this month. The United States, which has more leverage over the Egyptian military than any other outside party, should use it to reverse what amounts to a coup.