Mursi order gives army right to arrest, suspends tax rises

Supporters of Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi and members of the Muslim Brotherhood chant pro-Mursi slogans during a support rally in Cairo. Egypt's main opposition coalition rejected Mursi's plan for a constitutional referendum this week, saying it risked dragging the country into "violent confrontation".The words on the poster, with Mursi face on it, read: "I'm proud that I voted for you". Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Published Monday, December 10, 2012

President Mohamed Mursi ordered Egypt's army from Monday to take on police powers -- including the right to arrest civilians -- in the run-up to a divisive constitutional referendum that has triggered mass street protests.

Meanwhile, Mursi had issued a decree overnight suspending tax rises amid the dire political crisis.

The president ordered the military to fully cooperate with police "to preserve security and protect vital state institutions for a temporary period, up to the announce of the results from the referendum," according to a copy obtained by AFP.

The military, which ruled Egypt between the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011 and the election of Mursi in June this year, has sought to remain neutral in the political crisis.

It has warned it "will not allow" the situation to deteriorate, and urged both sides to dialogue.

Army tanks and troops have since Thursday deployed around Mursi's presidential palace but they have not confronted thousands of protesters who have gathered there every night.

The decree, published in the government gazette, takes effect on the eve of mass rival protests on the referendum and follows street clashes that have left seven people dead and hundreds injured.

Egyptian Islamist movements, including Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood, will hold a rival demonstration on Tuesday, the same day as protests organized by the opposition, a Brotherhood spokesman told AFP.

A coalition called the Alliance of Islamist Forces "is calling for a demonstration Tuesday under the slogan 'Yes to legitimacy'," in support of a constitutional referendum championed by Mursi, Mahmud Ghozlan said.

The rival rallies in Cairo raise the potential for clashes such as those that erupted last Wednesday, killing seven people and wounding hundreds.

Mursi cuts taxes

And perhaps in an effort to subdue protesting citizens at a time of crisis and unrest, Mursi suspended tax rises on a range of products, including alcohol and cigarettes, the official MENA news agency reported on Monday.

Mursi issued the decision overnight and tasked his prime minister, Hisham Qandil, to start talks on the taxes "so as not to increase the burden on citizens".

The tax hikes, also affecting steel, cement and other products, were part of budget efforts Egypt has agreed to make to secure a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund to help its listing economy.

Plummeting tourism and foreign investment have left the country in poor economic condition as it faces a spiraling political confrontation between Mursi's Islamist-led camp and the opposition.

The opposition carries forward
Egypt's worst political crisis since Mursi was elected in June started with calls for him to repeal a November decree granting him sweeping new powers and was exacerbated by the new charter, drafted by an Islamist-leaning panel, which is set for a referendum on Saturday.

Mursi repealed the decree late on Saturday night but opposition protesters had already begun calling for Mursi to go altogether.

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 recognize 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.

Article two of the constitution states that the principles of Islamic Sharia will be "the principal source of legislation."

Only when it comes to "personal status laws, religious affairs, and the selection of their spiritual leaders" can Christians and Jews turn to their 'canon principles' for legislation.

Article 48 states that "...The closure or confiscation of media outlets is prohibited except with a court order. Control over the media is prohibited, with the exception of specific censorship that may be imposed in times of war or public mobilization." This clause, as is the case with many of the laws, means little in terms of guaranteeing freedom because all that it really means is that the courts and the representatives of the state decide when to invoke censorship.

There are several clauses that 'guarantee freedom' unless there is a court order to take them away.These court orders can be exercised seemingly arbitrarily. There are no clear limitations on when the courts might find it appropriate to take away certain freedoms.

Mursi's camp, though, argues that it is up to the people to accept or reject the draft constitution.

Analysts said still-strong support for Mursi and the proven ability of his Muslim Brotherhood to mobilize Egypt's voters at the grassroots level would likely help the draft constitution be adopted.

"The Muslim Brotherhood believes that it has majority support so it can win the constitutional referendum," said Eric Trager, analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

If that happens, he warned, it would "set up the country for prolonged instability."

(Al-Akhbar, AFP)

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