Cairo: President Mohammed Mursi has ordered Egypt's army from yesterday to take on police powers — including the right to arrest civilians —in the run-up to a vote on a constitution that has triggered bloodshed.
The decree took effect on the eve of mass rival protests on the referendum that is to be staged on Saturday, and follows street clashes that have left seven people dead and hundreds injured.
It orders the military to fully cooperate with police "to preserve security and protect vital state institutions for a temporary period, up to the announcement of the results from the referendum," according to a copy of the decree.
Army officers "all have powers of legal arrest," it says.
The military, which ruled Egypt between former president Hosni Mubarak's ouster in February 2011 to Mursi's election in June 2012, has sought to remain neutral in the political crisis.
But 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 Morsi's presidential palace. But they have not confronted thousands of protestors who have gathered there every night.
Yesterday afternoon, more than 100 anti-Mursi demonstrators milled around there, a correspondent saw.
A few opposition men frisked protestors, but soldiers, who had set up big concrete barriers around the palace, did nothing.
The opposition, made up of secular, liberal, leftwing and Christian groups, has said it will escalate its protests to scupper the referendum.
It views the new constitution, largely drawn up by Mursi's Islamist allies, as undermining human rights, the rights of women, religious minorities, and curtailing the independence of
Mursi has defiantly pushed on with the draft charter, seeing it as necessary to secure democratic reform in the wake of Mubarak's 30-year autocratic rule.
Late on Sunday, the main opposition group, the National Salvation Front, called for huge protests in Cairo to reject the December 15 constitutional referendum.
It said Mursi used near-absolute powers he had decreed himself last month to railroad through the draft constitution, and his revocation of those powers on the weekend came too late.
"We do not recognise the draft constitution because it does not represent the Egyptian people," National Salvation Front spokesman Sameh Ashour told a news conference.
In recent days, the protesters have hardened their slogans, going beyond criticism of the decree and the referendum to demand Mursi's ouster.
The Muslim Brotherhood, from which Mursi hails, shot back that Islamist movements would counter with their own big rallies in the capital in support of the
"We are calling for a demonstration on Tuesday, under the slogan 'Yes to legitimacy'," the Brotherhood's spokesman, Mahmud Ghozlan, said.
Mursi's camp argues it is up to the people to accept or reject the draft constitution.
Cairo schools informed parents they would be closed as precaution today.
A group of senior judges yesterday said pro-Mursi Islamist protestors would have to lift a week-long sit-in on the constitutional court before they would consider overseeing the referendum.