Will Morsi's security request give Army renewed clout?

President Mohamed Morsi has asked the military, whose power he curtailed earlier this year, to help keep the peace as Egypt's Dec. 15 constitutional referendum nears.

Petr David Josek/AP
Soldiers stand guard by their armored vehicle in front of the presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Dec. 10, 2012. The Egyptian military on Monday assumed joint responsibility with the police for security and protecting state institutions until the results of a Dec. 15 constitutional referendum are announced.

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Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has called on the military to "preserve security" during the runup to the controversial Dec. 15 constitutional referendum, as opposition critics dismiss his recent reversal of his immunity from oversight as a "nothing" gesture.

Agence France-Presse reports that Mr. Morsi instructed the military to cooperate fully with police "to preserve security and protect vital state institutions for a temporary period, up to the announce of the results from the referendum." The order also allows the military to arrest civilians.

The military has largely been neutral so far in Egypt's political crisis, though it deployed troops on Dec. 6 around the presidential palace to keep the peace amid ongoing opposition protests in the area. The BBC's Jon Leyne in Cairo says the decree will raise fears that the military, which ruled Egypt for decades under former President Hosni Mubarak but was curtailed earlier this year by Morsi, is regaining some of that power.

The president's decree comes on the heels of his annulment of his Nov. 22 power grab, when he declared his power immune to any judicial or legislative review. That order, combined with the Muslim Brotherhood's rush to produce the constitution that will be put to a referendum on Dec. 15, spurred the widespread protests that have wracked Egypt since. 

But while Morsi framed the rescission as a concession to the opposition, protesters say that the damage has already been done, reports Kristen Chick for the Monitor.

"Morsi used the powers of the decree to push his constitution on us, so what does it mean if he cancels it now? It means nothing. He achieved his goal already," says Haitham Mohamed, who has spent much of the last week protesting the president's moves. He noted that if the referendum approves the constitution, Morsi's previous decree, and the powers that came with it, would have been invalidated soon anyway. "We demanded that he delay the referendum, and for a constitution we agree on. He ignored this demand." ...

[Bassem Sabry, a writer who often focuses on Egypt's opposition,] says the new constitutional decree was not a compromise because it did not delay the constitutional referendum. After a contentious process that saw most non-Islamist members of the committee walk out, the committee announced abruptly less than two weeks ago that it would finish the document and put it to a vote.

Sabry says Egyptians need at least a month to mull the document, which rights activists and many opposition members call deeply flawed. Sabry also objects to the president's repeated use of constitutional declarations, the term used here for unilateral amendments, made by the executive, to the temporary constitution.

The Washington Post reports that it remains unclear whether the president's rescission really reversed course. The Post notes that "The new declaration, while voiding the old, contained an article that grants the president the right to make new decrees, free of oversight."

Expanding on his comments to the Monitor, Bassem Sabry writes that "The opposition and others ... do not believe that he has the legal power to issue such declarations," such as the ones issued on Nov. 22 and over the weekend.  Mr. Sabry adds that the president's refusal to delay the constitutional referendum is problematic, as the constitution is too complex to be understood in just a few days, even by those like himself who have been monitoring its evolution closely.

I have followed every document released by the assembly from day one, analysed and written about them, attended formal discussion groups on the documents, have studied relevant academic material in my education, and I – and others like me – are actually still discovering new perspectives about this document till this day! What would a normal citizen do? People need at least a month to study this document and make up their minds in an informed decision. Trying to rush the referendum appears to be an attempt to capitalise on current conditions to secure a yes vote. ...

The referendum has to be delayed, if there is any real desire by the administration for people to actually make some informed opinion of any kind. I have asked tens of current yes and no voters, and many are basing their decisions on things that are either inaccurate or had changed from previous drafts!

Regardless, the rescission satisfied at least one group of protesters: Egypt's judges. Independent Egyptian news site Bikya Masr reports that Egypt's judges, who had been on strike since Morsi's Nov. 22 decree, returned to work today.  Bikya Masr writes that according to Judge Zaghloul al-Balshi, head of judicial inspection, the judges had been angry "because of the constitutional decree and Morsi annulled that yesterday. Therefore there is no need for judges to suspend their work and as of tomorrow they will return to their work as usual.”

Bikya Masr adds that the judges will announce tomorrow whether they will oversee the upcoming constitutional referendum.

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