Amid growing dissent, Egypt president Mursi scraps decree that sparked protests

Last Updated: Mon, Dec 10, 2012 03:53 hrs

pEgyptian President Mohamed Mursi has cancelled a decree that gave him sweeping powers and sparked deadly violence but did not delay this month&rsquos referendum on a new constitution as his opponents had demandedppThe announcement that Mursi had scrapped his November 22 decree followed hours of talks on Saturday at his presidential palace billed as a &ldquonational dialogue&rdquo but which was boycotted by his main opponents and had little credibility among protestersppOne opposition group dismissed Mursi&rsquos efforts at appeasement as the &ldquocontinuation of deception&rdquoppHis opponents have demanded Mursi scrap the vote on December 15 on a constitution that was fast-tracked through an assembly led by Mursi&rsquos Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists Liberals and others had walked out saying their voices were not being heardppIslamists have insisted the referendum should go ahead on time saying it is needed to complete a democratic transition still incomplete after Hosni Mubarak&rsquos overthrow 22 months agoppThe military which had run the nation during a turbulent interim period after Mubarak fell stepped into the crisis on Saturday to tell feuding factions that dialogue was essential to avoid &ldquocatastrophe&rdquo But a military source said that was not a prelude to the army retaking control of Egypt or the streetsppAfter Saturday&rsquos talks the president issued a new decree in which the first article &ldquocancels the constitutional declaration&rdquo announced on November 22 the spokesman for the dialogue Mohamed Selim al-Awa told a news conference held around midnightppBut he said the constitutional referendum would go ahead next Saturday adding that although those at the meeting had discussed a postponement there were legal obstacles to taking such a stepppThe political turmoil has exposed deep rifts in the nation of 83 million 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 Egyptian just crave stability and economic recovery Islamists and more liberal-minded opponents have both drawn tens of thousands of supporters to the streets in rival rallies since Mursi&rsquos decree last monthpp pp pp ppSeven people were killed in violence around the presidential palace which has been ringed by tanks The spokesman for the main opposition coalition the National Salvation Front which stayed away from Saturday&rsquos talks said his group would meet on Sunday to discuss a response to Mursi&rsquos initiative to cancel his old decreeppBut Hussein Abdel Ghani added &ldquoMy first personal impression is that it is a limited and insufficient step We repeatedly said that among our top demands is for the referendum to be delayed&rdquoppThe April 6 movement which helped galvanise street protests against Mubarak said in a statement about the outcome of Saturday&rsquos talks &ldquoWhat happened is manipulation and a continuation of deception in the name of law and legitimacy&rdquoppThe new decree excluded some elements from the old decree that angered the opposition including an article that gave Mursi broad powers to confront threats to the revolution or the nation wording opponents said gave him arbitrary authorityppAnother article in the old decree had put beyond legal challenge any decision taken by the president since he took office on June 30 and until a new parliament was elected a step that can only happen when a new constitution is in placeppThat was not repeated but the new decree said that &ldquoconstitutional declarations including this declaration&rdquo were beyond judicial reviewppThe new decree outlined steps for setting up an assembly to draft a new constitution should the current draft be rejected in Saturday&rsquos referendumppIn addition the opposition was invited to offer suggested changes to the new constitution echoing an earlier initiative by Mursi&rsquos administration for changes to be discussed and agreed on by political factions and put to the new parliament to approveppAmid the violence and political bickering the army has cast itself primarily as the neutral guarantor of the nationpp&ldquoThe armed forces affirm that dialogue is the best and only way to reach consensus&rdquo the military statement said &ldquoThe opposite of that will bring us to a dark tunnel that will result in catastrophe and that is something we will not allow&rdquoppThe army might be pushing the opposition to join the dialogue and for Mursi to do more to draw them in said Hassan Abu Taleb of the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic StudiesppHe discounted the chance of direct military intervention adding &ldquoThey realise that interfering again in a situation of civil combat will squeeze them between two rocks&rdquoppBut the military seemed poised to take a more active role in security arrangements for the upcoming referendumppA Cabinet source said the Cabinet had discussed reviving the army&rsquos ability to make arrests if it were called upon to back up police who are normally in charge of election securityppAccording to the state-run daily al-Ahram an expanded military security role might extend to the next parliamentary election and at the president&rsquos discretion even beyond thatp

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