March 21 (Reuters) - Egypt passed a milestone on the path charted by its military rulers towards elections and civilian rule when amendments to the constitution were approved in a referendum by a big majority of voters. [ID:nLDE72J0FQ] Following are further steps expected in Egypt's political transition that will end with the military handing power to an elected government:
The military, governing since Hosni Mubarak was toppled on Feb. 11, has said it will lift restrictions on political party formation once the referendum passed, removing one of the major obstacles to political life from Mubarak's era.
The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group, is expected to announce the formation of its "Freedom and Justice Party" once the restrictions are lifted. A plethora of other parties are also expected to emerge.
Many groups have said they are in the process of setting up new parties. Several secular opposition figures have announced they will form new parties to counter what they fear will be an Islamist-dominated political scene.
Experts say the army may issue a decree to act as an interim constitution to provide the basis for a transitional government until elections are held. That decree will stay in place until a new, permanent constitution is drawn up, they say. The army suspended the existing constitution after Mubarak stepped down.
The military is expected to announce dates for legislative and presidential elections. The military has signalled that legislative elections could happen as soon as September, with the presidential election after that.
The preliminary timetable has drawn criticism from secular reform groups who have been calling for a longer interim period to allow political life to recover from decades of oppression.
Some also say the presidential elections should be held first, though the head of the military-appointed judicial committee which drafted the constitutional reforms said the referendum result had put an end to any debate the sequence.
The Brotherhood, which is well-organised, supports the idea of quick elections, as do figures associated with Mubarak's National Democratic Party, who also have organisational capacity, political experience and money.
Officials have said the state of emergency, another factor blamed for choking political life, will be lifted ahead of elections. The current emergency laws have been imposed since the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981. The military, still imposing a curfew from midnight until 6 a.m., has offered little guidance on when the emergency laws might be lifted. An official said on Feb. 19 they would be lifted within six months.
The head of the judicial committee which drafted the constitutional amendments has said an election to the lower house of parliament will be followed by an election for its upper house.
The elections will take place under full judicial supervision, according to the constitutional amendments passed at the weekend.
Once a new parliament is elected, a legal council will be formed to start work on an entirely new constitution that will be completed within a year, according to Tareq al-Bishry, the head of the military-appointed judicial committee.
PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION The presidential election could be held as soon as December and will take place under new rules that open up competition for the position held by Mubarak for three decades.
Under the new constitution, the new president will only be able to stay in office for two four-year terms.
The old constitution prevented anyone from mounting a serious challenge to Mubarak. The terms set in the amended constitution are much looser.
Prominent figures to have declared their candidacy so far include Amr Moussa, who will soon relinquish his position as secretary-general of the Arab League and Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog in Vienna.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces will assume presidential powers until the new head of state is elected. At that point, it is expected to relinquish power.
Writing by Tom Perry with additional reporting by Dina Zayed; Editing by Edmund Blair