CAIRO – Egypt’s Islamist president has given the army temporary power to arrest civilians to help secure a constitutional referendum seen by the Muslim Brotherhood as a triumph for democracy and by its liberal foes as a religious straitjacket.
President Mohamed Morsi, bruised by the political uproar in which protesters have besieged his graffiti-besmirched palace to demand his downfall, has rescinded a November 22 decree giving him wide powers, but has not budged on the referendum date.
A decree issued by Morsi late on Sunday means the armed forces can arrest civilians and refer them to prosecutors until the results of the referendum are announced.
Despite its limited nature, the edict will revive memories of Hosni Mubarak’s emergency law, also introduced as a temporary expedient, under which military or state security courts tried thousands of political dissidents and Islamist militants.
A cabinet source said ministers had reviewed the decree last week, saying troops had secured elections during a military-run transition after Mubarak but, with a civilian president in charge, now needed a decree to allow them to play that role.
Protests and violence have racked Egypt since Morsi decreed himself extraordinary powers he said were needed to speed up a troubled transition since Mubarak’s fall 22 months ago.