President Mohamed Mursi may authorize Egypt’s armed forces to help the police maintain order, a state- owned newspaper reported, as Prime Minister Hisham Qandil separately said Mursi may amend a controversial decree that increased his powers and may postpone a Dec. 15 constitutional referendum.
The Cabinet approved a decree allowing the army to use the force “necessary to perform their duty” to maintain security and protect vital state institutions, Cairo-based Al Ahram newspaper said today. The Defense Ministry will determine the scope of the military’s role, the paper said. The army called today on all political parties to engage in national dialogue, the state-run Middle East News Agency said.
Later in the day, Prime Minister Hisham Qandil said a new decree regarding the powers of the president may be released “within hours” that aims to end the demonstrations and political deadlock that followed Mursi’s Nov. 22 decree that placed his decisions above judicial review. Qandil speaking on Mehwar TV said Mursi may delay the constitutional referendum scheduled to take place in one week, a key opposition demand.
Opposition supporters today began a third week of rallies outside the presidential palace to protest both a draft constitution, which they say is biased toward Mursi’s Islamist supporters, and the Nov. 22 decree that gives him powers unchecked by the courts. The protests, which have prompted clashes with police, have persisted even after Mursi’s office said he may delay the referendum.
Today’s decree on the role of the military “is worse than the emergency law imposed under Mubarak,” Gamal Eid, a lawyer who heads the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, said by telephone from Cairo. “The decree gives the army the right to arrest civilians, a right previously reserved for police officers alone, and that means that Mursi is seeking the army’s help against his opponents, which means more blood and more violence.”
Eid said Mursi is “seeking to re-establish dictatorial rule in Egypt” by using the military to promote a political stance. The activist likened Mursi to former President Hosni Mubarak, whose February 2011 ouster was the result of an uprising that included the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Mursi was a member before assuming the presidency.
Politicians were among public figures arriving at the palace today for talks that the government said were aimed at resolving the crisis, according to state television. Opposition groups followed through on a pledge to boycott the gathering.
The National Salvation Front, the al-Wafd Party and the April 6 youth movement had rejected the president’s Dec. 6 offer of “comprehensive” discussion about the proposed constitution. Secular activists and other opposition groups say the constitution was hijacked by Islamists, and are demanding that Mursi abandon the referendum.
At the meeting with Mursi, those who did attend agreed to form a new legal committee that will rewrite the Nov. 22 presidential decree in a way that will end the current discord, Qandil said in his Mehwar TV interview. The committee also may issue a law postponing the constitutional referendum, he said.
The protests against Mursi and the escalating violence threaten to derail Egypt’s efforts to establish a democracy after last year’s uprising and to revive an economy that has stalled as the upheaval has kept investors and tourists away.
Vice President Mahmoud Mekki said yesterday Mursi is willing to delay the public vote on the constitution subject to conditions, including that the opposition agree to talks and refrain from using the courts to get a further delay of the referendum.
Officials said the government delayed the start of voting in the referendum by expatriate Egyptians from today to Dec. 12, according to Ahram Online.
The president has refused to withdraw the Nov. 22 decree that exempts his decisions from judicial review and extends similar protection to the Islamist-dominated panel that drafted the constitution. Mursi has offered to amend aspects of his decree, not rescind it.
Mohamed Badie, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader, called today for the voters to decide on the referendum.
“Why not use the ballot as the referee?” he said during a press conference in Cairo.”
Former United Nations nuclear-agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei, leader of National Salvation Front, urged Mursi to rescind the Nov. 22 decree immediately and to postpone the referendum “until we reach a national compromise,” speaking yesterday on Egyptian satellite broadcaster ONtv.
Qandil called on opposition leaders yesterday to agree to talks with Mursi, saying the current situation will hurt the country’s economy.
The protests and renewed violence have sent Egyptian stocks plunging. The benchmark EGX 30 index slumped 4.6 percent Dec. 6, extending its loss since Mursi’s decree to 11 percent. Markets in Egypt were closed on Friday, Dec. 7. The cost of insuring Egypt’s bonds through five-year credit-default swaps jumped to a two-month high and the pound weakened to an eight-year low.
Mursi’s presidential statement yesterday followed a day of protest by supporters and opponents, and attacks against government buildings and Muslim Brotherhood offices. At least 110 people were hurt in clashes around the country, the Health Ministry said, according to the Middle East News Agency. No deaths were reported. Six people were killed on Dec. 4 and at least 700 injured, the ministry said.
“It’s too late for a dialogue now,” Ayman Abdellatif, a member of the opposition Popular Current Party, said in an interview in Cairo today. “Mursi has issued a dictatorial decree and ignored the opposition’s legitimate calls to revoke it until the country reached a level of division and a point of no return.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Salma El Wardany in Cairo at firstname.lastname@example.org; Glen Carey in Riyadh at email@example.com
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