Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi has given Egypt’s army the powers of arrest and ordered it to “cooperate” with police until after the results of the Dec. 15 referendum on the disputed draft constitution.
The presidential decree, which is to appear on Tuesday in the government’s official gazette under “Law 107,” was issued ahead of rival mass protests on Tuesday over the referendum.
The decision indicates how jittery the government is about the referendum scheduled for next Saturday amid increasingly vocal opposition.
Egypt’s powerful army, which is trying to remain neutral, warned on Saturday it “will not allow” a worsening of the crisis and said both sides must hold dialogue.
Mursi has made a key concession to the opposition on the weekend by rescinding a decree giving himself wide-ranging powers free from judicial challenge.
But his determination to see through the disputed referendum infuriated the opposition National Salvation Front, which has said no talks are possible if it goes ahead.
“The Front calls for demonstrations in the capital and in the regions on Tuesday as a rejection of the president’s decision that goes against our legitimate demands,” it said in a statement read late Sunday at a news conference by its spokesman, Sameh Ashour.
“We do not recognise the draft constitution because it does not represent the Egyptian people,” the statement said, adding that the referendum “will certainly lead to more division and sedition.”
Going ahead with the referendum “in this explosive situation with the threat of the Brothers’ militias amounts to the regime abandoning its responsibilities,” it said.
The opposition sees the constitution, which was largely written up by Islamists, as a tool weakening human rights, and the rights of women, religious minorities, and the judiciary’s independence.
It dismissed arguments by Mursi aides that the referendum could not legally be delayed under constitutional rules requiring a plebiscite two weeks after it is formally presented to the president.
“The two-week deadline is just a date for organizing the refeghrendum, and you can postpone it without any problems,” a Front leader, Munir Fakhri, told AFP.
Mursi’s camp, though, argues that it is up to the people to accept or reject the draft constitution.
If it is rejected in the referendum, Mursi has promised to have a new one drawn up by officials chosen by the public, rather than the Islamist-dominated parliament as was the case for the current text.