Egyptian President Walks Back Power Grab
Egypt’s President has reversed the decree he issued last week granting him near dictatorial powers:
CAIRO — Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi early Sunday annulled most of an extraordinary Nov. 22 decree that gave him near-absolute power and plunged this nation into a deeply divisive political crisis.
But the opposition remained defiant, calling for a fresh round of protests just hours after the president’s concession.
The decree, which Morsi had said was necessary to move Egypt’s democratic transition forward, will be replaced by a modified version of the original declaration. The most controversial article, which placed all of Morsi’s actions beyond judicial review, is gone, said Mohammad Salim al-Awa, spokesman for a national political dialogue held Saturday.
But Morsi plans to push forward with a referendum scheduled for Saturday on a controversial draft constitution that the opposition said it wants to see shelved. Opposition leaders vowed Sunday that unless the referendum was cancelled, the demonstrations would continue.
Opposition leaders cast the president’s backtracking as an inadequate response to the anger that has driven tens of thousands of protesters into the streets over the past two weeks. But some also took Morsi’s readjustment of his edict as a sign of weakness that could be exploited.
“We have broken the barrier of fear: A constitution that axes our rights and freedoms is a constitution we will bring down today before tomorrow,” opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei tweeted shortly after 2 a.m. “Our strength is in our will.”
Members of the National Salvation Front, a broad opposition alliance headed by ElBaradei and a handful of other prominent liberals and secularists, called on Egyptians to continue their demonstrations and sit-ins in the country’s squares.
At least three activist groups announced plans to march on the presidential palace, where tensions between supporters and opponents of the president erupted in violent clashes last week.
The new decree satisfies a key demand of opposition leaders by scaling back some of Morsi’s power, though many said the article has already served its purpose for Morsi. He used it to protect an Islamist-dominated constitution-writing panel from dissolution by Egypt’s highest court, enabling the panel to pass a draft charter that the opposition said fails to enshrine the rights of women and minority groups, or limit the powers of the president.
Morsi invited opposition groups to a national dialogue on Saturday, but all but a handful of figures boycotted the event, saying that if the referendum was going ahead, there was nothing to talk about.
It remains unclear whether the compromise will be enough to calm a political crisis that has split the revolutionary allies who ousted former president Hosni Mubarak nearly two years ago. In recent days, the crisis has degenerated into violent scenes of division, with Morsi’s Islamist backers and his secular, liberal and non-Islamist opponents beating each other bloody with rocks, sticks and clubs.
Further details of the new constitutional decree were unclear. But as the national dialogue got underway Saturday, Morsi appeared to be preparing to grant the military broad powers to arrest civilians and keep public order until a new constitution is approved and parliamentary elections are held, according to a report Saturday in the state-run newspaper al-Ahram.
Morsi’s agreement to rescind his disagree is likely embolden the opposition and lead to more protests this week in anticipation of Saturday’s vote on a new Constitution. Whether Morsi ends up backing down on that remains to be seen.