Egypt Court Overturns Military’s Power to Arrest Civilians

An Egyptian court suspended the military’s right to arrest civilians, in a win for the Muslim Brotherhood in its power struggle with the ruling generals ahead of an end-June handover of power to the new Islamist president.

The power of arrest, granted in a decree by the justice minister, outraged the Brotherhood and activists who saw it as de facto declaration of martial law. Hours after polls closed on June 17, the ruling generals handed themselves broader powers at the expense of the presidency.

“We are happy about this ruling,” Gamal Eid, director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights, said by telephone. “It limits the militarization of Egypt after military personnel were given wider powers to infringe on the freedom of citizens.”

The hearing was one of several challenges before the administrative court that could benefit the Brotherhood. Even so, the court postponed until July 9 a hearing on the order to disband the Islamist-dominated parliament. A ruling overturning that decision could have provided support for Mohamed Mursi as he settled into an office.

The disputes have added to the general uncertainty as Mursi works to unite a divided nation with pledges to appoint deputies and advisers from broad swathes of society. In particular, he faces the challenge of keeping the support of secular and youth activist groups, many of whom endorsed his campaign mainly to block his rival Ahmed Shafik, who served as prime minister under deposed President Hosni Mubarak.

Opposition Role

“It’s preferable for me that I don’t become a part” of the presidential office, Ahmed Maher, one of the co-founders of the April 6 youth movement that played a key role in last year’s uprising against Mubarak, said by phone. “My role in the opposition is more important than my potential role in the government.”

The legal challenge against the right to dissolve parliament, filed by lawmakers including parliamentary speaker Saad el-Katatni, was adjourned to give the government time to respond, said Mohamed Hassan, the head of the court’s technical office. Mursi’s supporters wanted him to take the oath of office before the assembly instead of the constitutional court that had ruled to disband the legislature.

His political adviser, Ahmed Deif, said Mursi had yet to decide where the swearing-in would be held. Deif said by phone that Mursi was looking at the legal measures that could prompt a reversal of the decision to dissolve parliament.

Constitution Committee

Adding to the uncertainty that has dogged Egypt’s transition to democracy, the Supreme Administrative Court also adjourned until Sept. 4 a suit seeking to disband the committee charged with drafting the country’s constitution. The measure, if successful, would mark the second time the panel has been scrapped.

Mursi is taking the helm of a nation divided by the political crisis over the past 16 months, coupled with the faltering economy. He has called for unity and pledged to appoint deputies and advisers from across Egyptian society.

The 60-year-old U.S.-trained engineer has been eyeing several prominent secularists and revolutionary activists, such as Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, for top spots in the government or as deputies and advisers, according to officials within the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party.

He is also looking to make a clean break from his predecessor’s past, pledging to be a president for “all Egyptians” and adopting humbler attitudes.

A presidential official said today that Mursi called on all institutions and individuals not to take out advertisements in the media congratulating him on his victory, the state-run Middle East News Agency reported. Companies and groups often paid tens of thousands of pounds for full or half-page ads in newspapers saluting Mubarak on special occasions.

Limits on Power

Mursi also asked that his picture not be hung up in government institutions or offices and ministries, the unidentified official was cited as saying by MENA. Mubarak’s picture was a fixture in government offices across the country, as were billboards showing him wearing his aviator sunglasses.

Even as he sought to strike a more amenable image than that of his predecessor, the limits on the new president’s powers may affect his ability to win over figures such as Abdel-Moneim Aboul-Fotouh, a politician popular with activists and secularists whose own presidential bid failed.

Mursi has inherited the presidency without “knowing his mandate,” Aboul-Fotouh said yesterday in a press conference. He told reporters that he wouldn’t accept any offer to join the presidency.

Presidential Team

Among the other names floated for senior positions is Hazem el-Beblawi, who served for a while as deputy prime minister and finance minister after Mubarak’s ouster, the state-run Al-Ahram reported today, citing unidentified officials. The presidential team, headed by Mursi, would group roughly 12 people, including five deputies, as well as advisers and aides, the newspaper reported.

Al-Ahram newspaper said that under the new government, the Freedom and Justice Party would get about 30 percent of the ministerial portfolios. Discussions were ongoing about three key ministries -- the defense, interior and justice -- the newspaper said, citing unidentified officials.

-- With assistance from Mariam Fam in Cairo. Editors: Digby Lidstone, Francis Harris.

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