Morsi vests power of detention in military
Fearing a renewal of clashes that killed eight and injured 700 people last week, Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, as armed forces commander-in- chief, has granted the military the power to detain civilians who attack public buildings or are involved in violence.
These powers are to continue until the result of a constitutional referendum, due to take place on Saturday, is announced.
Amnesty International has expressed concern because of the military’s history of abuse and human rights violations.
Two weeks ago, Mr Morsi set himself on a collision course with secular liberals when he granted himself expanded powers and fixed the date of the vote on a constitution drafted by the Muslim fundamentalist majority, which has been rejected by the opposition.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party is calling on supporters to take part in two mass marches today to assert the legitimacy of the referendum. Liberal opponents demanding a delay of the vote are also urging a large turnout at protests outside the presidential palace in Heliopolis district and in Tahrir Square, the cradle of the uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak.
Clashing demonstrations are also expected in cities and towns across the country where there have been mass protests since November 22nd.
Ahmad Maher, head of the “revolution’s” vanguard April 6th movement, has accused Mr Morsi of railroading through an “illegitimate” constitution by failing to reach a national consensus on the document set to define Egypt’s system of governance.
Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a defected Muslim Brother and former presidential candidate who founded the Strong Egypt party, condemned the document and called on his backers to vote No.
The National Salvation Front, the main opposition coalition, led by Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei and former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, called on Egyptians to continue protesting to have the referendum postponed. Front leaders are divided over whether to boycott it or vote No.
Veteran commentator Youssef Zaki argued that Mr Morsi does not dare back down because he would look weak in the eyes of his Muslim Brotherhood constituency. The movement believes it can muster the votes needed to pass the constitution and is not prepared to alter its provisions or delay the vote to accommodate secular liberals.
In the Brotherhood’s view, the opposition’s intention is to clip Mr Morsi’s wings and deny the Brotherhood the fruits of its “legitimate” victories in parliamentary and presidential elections.
Meanwhile, Mr Morsi has put on hold a decision to impose new consumer taxes and excise tariffs required by the International Monetary Fund as the price of granting Egypt a $4.8 billion loan, for fear such unpopular measures would affect the referendum vote.
He has instructed the government to carry out a “social dialogue” with the public to win support for the measures. Mr Morsi has already cut subsidies on cooking gas and electricity. The new taxes would have affected Egyptians at all economic levels.
Several commentators have remarked that Mr Morsi has taken disastrous decisions over the past two weeks and been given poor advice by his entourage, which is drawn from the dominant conservative faction of the Brotherhood.
This group has prompted the desertion of moderates and liberal young members of the movement, founded in 1928.
He can, however, breathe a sign of relief because striking judges protesting his decree expanding his powers and putting himself beyond judicial review have returned to work and agreed to supervise the referendum.