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Egyptian Military Police Get Broader Powers
June 14, 2012

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The Egyptian Justice Ministry has granted military police and intelligence agents greater powers to arrest civilians, just days before the presidential runoff election.

Members of the Justice Ministry are appointed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, a group of generals led by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi that has governed the country since the abdication of Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.

The new powers include at list of offenses, including taking part in public demonstrations, halting traffic, damaging buildings, and resisting authorities. Human rights groups equated the announcement to the declaration of martial law or a resumption of the emergency laws that the government declared decades ago and didn't repeal until very recently.

The election pits the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi against Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister to serve under Mubarak. Morsi and Shafiq were the top two vote-getters in the first election round. Some observers say that the government fears street unrest after election results are announced.

The road to the election of the country's president has not been a straightforward one. The government has passed laws then refused to enforce them (including one that would have banned Shafiq from running for office), disqualified multiple presidential candidates (including the one put forward by the Safalis, who gained the second-most votes in both houses of parliament, behind the Brotherhood), and cracked down unevenly on protesters who continue to gather in Cairo's Tahrir Square, site of so much unrest in the past 18 months.

And hanging over all of this is the still-unwritten constitution. The military council voided the country's constitution after Mubarak fled, and the rule has been a subdued form of military rule since then. The plan is for a panel of 100 people to get together and write the new constitution, but disputes over membership in the panel have plagued the process. The first panel dissolved relatively quickly, having written next to nothing. Parliament has approved a new panel, but that vote was boycotted by non-Islamist MPs, highlighting the still-deep divide between the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafis, and other Islamist parties on one side and other, more liberal parties on the other side.

The new police powers, the government said, would remain in place until the new constitution is ratified by Parliament.

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