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.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. michael reynolds says:

    The problem with Muslim countries and Democracy is that Islam and Islamic Law are constant counter-pressures against any liberalization. We see it even in Turkey, which is not Arab and has a very different history than Egypt. Having not had a Reformation, having not had a Renaissance, having no Enlightenment or French Revolution (which was anti-clerical as well as anti-monarchical) or Henry VIII, or much involvement in modern science, the strains of liberalism are weak. All the backstory you see in the West is absent from the Muslim world. The Turks had Ataturk at least, but what has Egypt had? Nasser?

    The people in the cities and in the universities may be ready, more than ready, and obviously brave and admirable, but the rural, uneducated population will keep pushing for what seems safe and familiar.

    Having all of that backstory, having had two centuries of representative democracy we still have a major political party devoted to theocracy and the repression of women and gays, that despises science and liberal education, and that would gladly limit the voting rights of the “wrong” sorts of Americans. What can we expect of Egypt?

  2. Eric Florack says:

    Political concessions do not mean the opposition is going to start liking you.
    seems to me Reynolds is a prime example of this.

  3. anjin-san says:

    @ Florack

    We realize that you miss Mubarek. Heck, what’s a few dozen torture chambers if it helps a nervous fella such as yourself sleep a bit more soundly at night?

  4. michael reynolds says:

    Oh is that what he meant? I couldn’t make any sense of it, tried, then realized I had many better things to do than parse Florack.

  5. Franklin says:

    On the one hand this is one of the few incidents in history where someone has given up a power. But on the other hand, he still has more power than he did before the original decree.

  6. michael reynolds says:

    Watching Morsi reminds me again what a great man Nelson Mandela is. There is not exactly a surplus of men like that in this world. Egypt could use a Mandela right now.

  7. Whitfield says:

    “Mr. , you’re going back pig or pork ! Now make up your mind !!” US Marshall Matt Dillon – “Gunsmoke”