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Egypt's Morsi Reportedly Poised To Allow Military To Arrest Civilians

By Korva Coleman | NPR
Saturday, December 8, 2012

Some outraged protesters remain around the Egyptian presidential palace in Cairo today, as opponents of President Mohammed Morsi defy his recent ruling granting himself executive powers that can't be questioned by a court.

Now there's word he may have signed a new order allowing soldiers to detain and arrest civilians, a right that's reserved for police officers.

Egypt's Ahram Online reports soldiers could arrest people if Morsi asks the army to step in to "coordinate the preservation of security and protection of vital premises with police."

That might include a situation like last week's clashes between pro- and anti-Morsi demonstrators that left several people dead. Or it could be broader than that. The new decree was allegedly adopted by the Egyptian Cabinet and Morsi reportedly has yet to sign it.

Egypt's army released a pointed statement of its own today, warning both supporters and opponents of Morsi's administration and his Muslim Brotherhood political party that they must solve their disputes through dialogue, Reuters reports.

"The opposite of that will bring us to a dark tunnel that will result in catastrophe and that is something we will not allow," the army said.

Today, Morsi is hosting a day of "comprehensive dialogue" between his party and opponents, including secular and Christian leaders, though the opposition has rejected his call for talks. As VOA notes, leaders are furious over what they see as Morsi's executive power grab. They also want to call off the upcoming vote on a draft Egyptian constitution.

That proposed document was hastily finished last week by a group of delegates mostly made up of Islamists. Opposition members quit in frustration before it was completed, saying the rights of women, secular Egyptians and Christians were ignored.

Morsi set a referendum on the document for Dec. 15, but yesterday his administration surprisingly postponed early voting on the constitution, scheduled to get under way shortly, and The Associated Press says Morsi's aides have begun to hint the entire vote could be called off.

Meanwhile, if the Egyptian president opts to sign the new decree granting the army arrest powers, he'll imitate a step Egypt's military rulers tried to take earlier this year until they were stopped by Egyptian judges. Ahram Online says Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces passed the army arrest powers rule on June 13 while it still governed the country. Ten days later, the Egyptian Supreme Court overturned it. At that time, there was no parliament, and Morsi hadn't yet taken power.

Now Morsi is president: He, too, has no parliament to veto his actions. But unlike the military council, Morsi has declared his executive decisions beyond the reach of Egypt's courts.

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