Protests continue as Mursi rescinds decree
Published Sunday, December 9, 2012
A sit-in by opposition activists outside Egypt’s presidential palace continued Sunday despite an announcement one day earlier that President Mohammed Mursi has withdrawn a controversial decree that sparked weeks of violent protests.
A national dialog committee after a lengthy meeting on Saturday night said Mursi’s November 22 decree granting himself autocratic powers has been scrapped, but that the referendum for an Islamist-drawn draft constitution is still planned for December 15.
The April 6 Youth movement dismissed the announcements as "a political manoeuvre aimed at duping the people" and called for protests to continue to stop "the referendum on the constitution of the Muslim Brotherhood."
But the National Salvation Front, Egypt’s main opposition coalition born in the wake of the decree, was to meet Sunday "to discuss its position after the announcement," a high ranking member of the coalition said.
The coalition – set up by prominent opposition figures Mohammed el-Baradei, Hamdeen Sabbahi, Amr Moussa – has boycotted national dialog meetings, demanding as preconditions the removal of both the decree and the December 1 draft constitution.
Demonstrators furious at what they saw as a power grab by Mursi and the railroading of the draft constitution have held weeks of street rallies whose demands have escalated into calls for his resignation.
On Wednesday, vicious clashes erupted between pro- and anti-Mursi demonstrators outside the presidential palace that left seven people dead and more than 600 injured. Egypt's army stepped in by deploying tanks and troops around the palace.
At least four others have been killed in clashes since November 22.
On Saturday the military issued its first statement since the start of the crisis, warning the rival political camps to get together for talks to stop Egypt descending "into a dark tunnel with disastrous results."
Hours after that ultimatum, Mursi announced through his adviser, Selim al-Awa, that he was annulling the November 22 decree, but that the referendum would still go ahead as scheduled.
Al-Awa said Mursi was bound by a March 2011 constitutional declaration requiring that a vote be held within 15 days of its approval by the Constituent Assembly.
“If the people voted no to the referendum, a new constituent assembly will be formed within three months via general elections, after which it will write a new constitution within six months,” al-Awa said.
The opposition rebuffed an offer by Mursi last Thursday for talks because he had defiantly defended the decree and said the referendum would take place and the country would have to accept the result.
Opposition figures have denounced the draft charter as weakening protection of human rights and the rights of women and religious minorities.
Those criticisms were echoed last week by UN human rights chief Navi Pillay. "I believe people are right to be very concerned," she said.