Dec 9, 2012 No Comments ›› Chuck Biscuits
(Reuters) - A concession offered by President Mohamed Mursi failed to placate opponents who accused him on Sunday of plunging Egypt deeper into crisis by refusing to postpone a vote on a constitution shaped by Islamists.
Islamists say they see the referendum as sealing a democratic transition that began when a popular uprising toppled Hosni Mubarak 22 months ago after three decades of military-backed one-man rule.
Their liberal, leftist and Christian adversaries say the document being fast-tracked to a vote could threaten freedoms and fails to embrace the diversity of Egypt’s 83 million people.
More protests were planned near Mursi’s palace, despite tanks, barbed wire and other barriers installed last week after clashes between Islamists and their rivals killed seven people.
Mursi had given some ground the previous day when he retracted a fiercely contested decree giving himself extra powers and shielding his decisions from judicial review.
But the president insisted the constitutional referendum go ahead next Saturday and the Muslim Brotherhood, from which he sprang, urged the opposition to accept the poll’s verdict.
Ahmed Said, a liberal leader of the main opposition National Salvation Front, described the race to a referendum as “shocking” and an “act of war” against Egyptians.
The Front has promised a formal response later on Sunday.
Egypt is torn between Islamists, who were suppressed for decades, and their rivals, who fear religious conservatives want to squeeze out other voices and restrict social freedoms. Many Egyptians just crave stability and economic recovery.
Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan said the scrapping of Mursi’s decree had removed any reason for controversy.
“We ask others to announce their acceptance of the referendum result,” he said on the group’s Facebook page, asking whether the opposition would accept “the basics of democracy”.
The retraction of Mursi’s November 22 decree, announced around midnight after a “national dialogue” boycotted by almost all the president’s critics, has not bridged a deep political divide.
Prime Minister Hisham Kandil, a technocrat with Islamist leanings, said the referendum was the best test of opinion.
“The people are the makers of the future as long as they have the freedom to resort to the ballot box in a democratic, free and fair vote,” he said in a cabinet statement.
“CONSTITUTION WITHOUT CONSENSUS”
But opposition factions, uncertain of their ability to vote down the constitution against the Islamists’ organizational muscle, want the document redrafted before any vote.
“A constitution without consensus can’t go to a referendum,” said Hermes Fawzi, 28, a protester outside the palace. “It’s not logical that just one part of society makes the constitution.”
Egypt tipped into turmoil after Mursi grabbed powers to stop any court action aimed at hindering the transition. An assembly led by the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists then swiftly approved the constitution it had spent six months drafting.
Opponents, including minority Christians, had already quit the assembly in dismay, saying their voices were being ignored.
A leftist group led by defeated presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahy demanded the referendum be deferred until a consensus could be reached on a new draft, saying there could be “no dialogue while blood is being spilled in the streets”.
After the dialogue hosted by Mursi, a spokesman announced that the president had issued a new decree whose first article “cancels the constitutional declaration” of November 22. He said the referendum could not be delayed for legal reasons.
The decree ignited more than two weeks of sometimes bloody protests and counter-rallies in Egypt. Mursi’s foes have chanted for his downfall. Islamists fear a plot to oust the most populous Arab nation’s first freely elected leader.
The April 6 movement, prominent in the anti-Mubarak revolt, derided the result of Saturday’s talks as “manipulation and a continuation of deception in the name of law and legitimacy”.
Islamists reckon they can win the referendum and, once the new constitution is in place, a parliamentary poll about two months later. The Islamist-led lower house elected this year was dissolved after a few months by a court order.
Investors appeared relieved at Mursi’s retraction of his decree, sending Egyptian stocks 4.4 percent higher on Sunday. Markets are awaiting approval of a $4.8 billion IMF loan later this month designed to support the budget and economic reforms.
The military, which led Egypt’s transition for 16 turbulent months after Mubarak fell, told feuding factions on Saturday that only dialogue could avert “catastrophe”. But a military source said these remarks did not herald an army takeover.
CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s liberal opposition called for more protests Sunday, seeking to keep up the momentum of its street campaign after the president made a partial concession overnight but refused its main demand he rescind a draft constitution going to a referendum on Dec. 15.
President Mohammed Morsi met one of the opposition’s demands, annulling his Nov. 22 decrees that gave him near unrestricted powers. But he insisted on going ahead with the referendum on a constitution hurriedly adopted by his Islamist allies during an all-night session late last month.
The opposition National Salvation Front called on supporters to rally against the referendum. The size of Sunday’s turnout, especially at Cairo’s central Tahrir square and outside the presidential palace in the capital’s Heliopolis district, will determine whether Morsi’s concession chipped away some of the popular support for the opposition’s cause.
The opposition said Morsi’s rescinding of his decrees was an empty gesture since the decrees had already achieved their main aim of ensuring the adoption of the draft constitution. The edicts had barred the courts from dissolving the Constituent Assembly that passed the charter and further neutered the judiciary by making Morsi immune from its oversight.
Still, the lifting of the decrees could persuade many judges to drop their two-week strike to protest what their leaders called Morsi’s assault on the judiciary. An end to their strike means they would oversee the Dec. 15 vote as is customary in Egypt.
If the referendum goes ahead, the opposition faces a new challenge — either to campaign for a “no” vote or to boycott the process altogether. A low turnout or the charter passing by a small margin of victory would cast doubts on the constitution’s legitimacy.
It was the decrees that initially sparked the wave of protests against Morsi that has brought tens of thousands into the streets in past weeks. But the rushed passage of the constitution further inflamed those who feel Morsi and his Islamist allies, including the Muslim Brotherhood, are monopolizing power in Egypt and trying to force their agenda.
The draft charter was adopted amid a boycott by liberal and Christian members of the Constituent Assembly. The document would open the door to Egypt’s most extensive implementation of Islamic law, enshrining a say for Muslim clerics in legislation, making civil rights subordinate to Shariah and broadly allowing the state to protect “ethics and morals.” It fails to outlaw gender discrimination and mainly refers to women in relation to home and family.
Sunday’s rallies would be the latest of a series by opponents and supporters of Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood.
Both sides have drawn tens of thousands of people into the streets, sparking bouts of street battles that have left at least six people dead and hundreds wounded. Several offices of the Muslim Brotherhood also have been ransacked or torched in the unrest.
Morsi, who took office in June as Egypt’s first freely elected president, rescinded the Nov. 22 decrees at the recommendation Saturday of a panel of 54 politicians and clerics who took part in a “national dialogue” the president called for to resolve the crisis. Most of the 54 were Islamists who support the president, since the opposition boycotted the dialogue.
In his overnight announcement, Morsi also declared that if the draft constitution is rejected by voters in the referendum, a nationwide election would be held to select the next Constituent Assembly.
The assembly that adopted the draft was created by parliament, which was dominated by the Brotherhood and other Islamists, and had an Islamist majority from the start. The lawmaking lower house of parliament was later disbanded by court order before Morsi’s inauguration.
If the draft is approved in the referendum, elections would be held for a new lower house of parliament would be held within two months, Morsi decided.
The president has maintained all along that his Nov. 22 decrees were motivated by his desire to protect the country’s state institutions and transition to democratic rule against a “conspiracy” hatched by figures of the ousted regime of Hosni Mubarak.
Morsi, whose claims have been repeated by leaders of his Brotherhood, has yet to divulge details of the alleged conspiracy.