In all the chaos surrounding Egypt's current constitutional crisis the army has been given the authority to arrest civilians—but only temporarily. Egyptians have heard that one before. The last president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, once instituted a temporary "emergency law" to help keep the peace after the assassination of Anwar Sadat placed Mubarak into power. Thirty years later, that law was still in effect when Mubarak finally stepped down, so Egyptians can be forgiven for having a different understanding of the word "temporary."
Theoretically, the military is not taking sides in the political fight between President Mohamed Morsi and his opponents, who feel that he is trying to grab all the nation's political power for himself. However, with all the unrest in the streets over the last week, the soldiers are the only ones able to control the crowds of dueling rioters that have clashed in Cairo for days. Still, it remains unsettling for Egyptians that fought for so long to rid themselves of an authoritarian regime to see the regime that replaced it continue to grab more authority for itself.
The military will also be charged with monitoring next week's referendum on the new constitution. Morsi's opponents have called for a boycott of Saturday's vote, arguing that the new laws will not sufficiently protect individual rights and gives too much weight to religious influences in the ruling Muslim Brotherhood party. If the referendum passes, the people's best hope will be to rally more support for the next parliamentary elections, then win enough seats to force the drafting of another constitution, starting the process all over again. Another major protest demonstration has been called for Tuesday and Friday, before the weekend vote.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.