Egypt Government Gives Military Police Right to Detain Civilians

Egypt’s military police and military intelligence have been empowered to arrest civilians under a decree issued by Justice Minister Adel Abdel-Hamid after the country’s state of emergency lapsed last month.

The new guidelines go into effect from tomorrow until a new constitution is drafted and put in place, the Justice Ministry said in a faxed statement today.

The move comes a day after the ruling military council warned it would not shy away from the use of force against anyone trying to disrupt a runoff presidential vote slated to begin on June 16. That pits the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi against Ahmed Shafik, who briefly served as ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s last premier.

The military, which took over after Mubarak was pushed from office in a mass uprising last year, has vowed it will hand over power to a civilian president by the end of June. It has also stressed that it has a historic responsibility to protect Egypt, especially during the transitional period.

Egypt has yet to agree a new constitution, though a new committee charged with drafting the charter was elected yesterday. An earlier constitutional committee was disbanded after a court ruling against its composition. Secularists and others had complained it was dominated by Islamists, and the same complaints surfaced after the new panel was selected.

The military, initially hailed by activists for what many saw as their support of the uprising, has come under attack for what critics say are its heavy-handedness in dealing with protesters in several demonstrations that have turned deadly.

The state of emergency had given authorities powers to detain civilians, often without charge and for extended periods of time without due process. The Islamist-dominated parliament did not renew the measure, which elapsed at the end of May.

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