Middle East

Egyptian army has controversial arrest powers restored

Egyptian soldiers stand guard in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, May 28, 2012.
Image caption Egyptian soldiers lost the right to arrest civilians when emergency laws ended in May

Egypt's justice minister has granted members of the military the right to arrest civilians, sparking fears that an attempt is being made to reintroduce unpopular emergency laws.

The new powers will take effect on Thursday and remain in place until at least the new constitution is written.

The army's right to arrest civilians ended on 31 May when decades-old emergency laws were lifted.

This new move comes against a backdrop of heightened tension in Egypt.

Activists have warned it will allow the military to maintain and extend their power even after the transfer to civilian rule.

But Adel al-Mursi, head of military justice, told the AFP news agency: "The decision fills a legal vacuum, as the army is still on the streets even after the state of emergency was lifted."

Constitution troubles

The nominally temporary powers - granted to personnel including military intelligence and military police - will be in place at least until a new constitution is in place, which could take some time.

On Wednesday, Egypt's parliament approved an assembly to draft a constitution for a second time, after the first group was rejected for including too many Islamists.

The 100 names in the second assembly have also drawn objections from liberals and Christians, raising the possibility that the government may have to go back to the drawing board again.

Writing a new constitution is only one of the hurdles Egypt currently faces in its transition to democracy.

An increasingly fractious presidential campaign will come to an end this weekend when voters go to the polls to choose between the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Mursi or ex-prime minister Ahmed Shafik.

And Egypt's Supreme Court is due to rule on whether parliamentary elections held last year were unconstitutional.

If it finds they were, parliament will have to be shut down and re-elected, throwing the whole system into turmoil.

Earlier this month, protests erupted in Tahrir Square over the acquittal of six key security officials who were being tried for their role in killing protesters during last year's uprising.

More on this story