Egypt army gets temporary power to arrest civilians

Mon Dec 10, 2012 9:44am EST
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By Marwa Awad

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's government has temporarily given the military the authority to arrest civilians to help safeguard a constitutional referendum planned for Saturday, the official gazette said.

The order, gazetted late on Sunday, said the military would support police and liaise with them to protect "vital institutions" until the referendum result is declared.

The decree gave army officers the right to make arrests and transfer detainees to prosecutors.

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.

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.

"The armed forces secured polling stations during previous elections when it was in charge of the country," the source said, referring to 16 months of army rule after Mubarak fell.

"Now the president is in charge. In order for the armed forces to be involved in securing the referendum, a law had to be issued saying so," the source added.   Continued...

Anti-Mursi protesters sit outside their tents, below a flag that reads, "No, to Constitution" at Tahrir Square in Cairo December 10, 2012. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany