Cairo: Egyptian Army has been given temporary powers to arrest miscreants during a constitutional referendum by the President Mohamed Morsi as he is firm at arranging the referendum to legalize his efforts for acquiring sweeping powers.
Egypt is again presenting a scene of civil war as there are clashes between Morsi’s supports and opponents. Seven people were killed and hundreds wounded last week in clashes between the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and their critics besieging presidential palace. Both sides are planning mass rallies on Tuesday.
The elite Republican Guard has yet to use force to keep protesters away from the palace, which it ringed with tanks, barbed wire and concrete barricades after last week’s violence.
Morsi has withdrawn a November 22 decree giving him wide powers but is going ahead with a referendum on Saturday on a constitution seen by his supporters as a triumph for democracy and by many liberals as a betrayal.
A decree issued by Morsi gives the armed forces the power to arrest civilians and refer them to prosecutors until the announcement of the results of the referendum, which the protesters want cancelled.
Despite its limited nature, the decree will revive memories of Hosni Mubarak’s emergency law, also introduced as a temporary benefit, under which military or state security courts tried thousands of political dissidents and Islamists.
But a military source stressed that the measure introduced by a civilian government would have a short shelf-life.
“The latest law giving the armed forces the right to arrest anyone involved in illegal actions such as burning buildings or damaging public sites is to ensure security during the referendum only,” the military source said.
Presidential spokesman Yasser Ali said that the committee overseeing the vote had requested the army’s assistance.
He stated, “The armed forces will work within a legal framework to secure the referendum and will return (to barracks) as soon as the referendum is over.”
Protests and violence have terrorized Egypt since Morsi decreed himself extraordinary powers he said were needed to speed up a troubled transition since Mubarak’s fall 22 months ago.
The Muslim Brotherhood has voiced anger at the Interior Ministry’s failure to prevent protesters setting fire to its headquarters in Cairo and 28 of its offices elsewhere.
Critics said the draft law puts Egypt in a religious constraint. Whatever the outcome of the referendum, the crisis has polarized the country and indicates more instability at a time when Morsi is trying to steady a fragile economy.
Morsi has suspended planned tax increases only hours after the measures was formally decreed, casting doubts on the government’s ability to push through tough economic reforms that form part of a proposed $4.8 billion IMF loan agreement.
Rejecting the referendum plan, opposition groups have called for mass protests on Tuesday, saying Morsi’s eagerness to push the constitution through could lead to “violent confrontation.”
Islamists have also urged their followers to turn out “in millions” the same day in a show of support for the president and for a referendum they feel sure of winning with their loyal base and perhaps with the votes of Egyptians weary of turmoil.