CAIRO – Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi has annulled a controversial decree that triggered violent protests in the country, while keeping a referendum on a divisive constitution.
"The constitutional decree is annulled from this moment," said Mohamed Selim al-Awa, an Islamist politician acting as a spokesman for a meeting President Morsi held with political and public figures, the BBC reported on Sunday, December 9.The move was an apparent attempt to end a political crisis that has spilled into the streets, pitting the president's supporters and opponents against one another.
The cancellation of the decree, which put Morsi’s decisions above judicial oversight, was not retroactive, meaning any decisions he made since its announcement still stand.
Those decisions, which include the approval of the draft constitution and removal of old attorney general, cannot be challenged by courts.
Awa told the news conference in Cairo that a referendum on a draft constitution would still go ahead as planned on December 15.
He argued that the 15 day time span could not be amended by President Morsi due to a previous decree approve in a referendum on March 19, 2011.
Awa said a new drafting panel will be formed and a new constitution written with six months, if voters reject the current draft at the December 15 polls.
The annulment of the November 22 decree followed hours of talks on Saturday at Morsi’s presidential palace, billed as a "national dialogue".
The dialogue was boycotted by his main opponents and had little credibility among protesters.
The controversial decree has sparked violent protests across Egypt, which prompted the powerful military to warn that it would not allow Egypt to spiral out of control and called for talks to resolve the conflict.
"Anything other than that (dialogue) will force us into a dark tunnel with disastrous consequences; something that we won't allow," it said.
Opponents accuse the Islamist leader of seeking to create a new autocracy by awarding himself extraordinary powers and were further angered when an Islamist-dominated assembly pushed through a draft constitution that opponents said did not properly represent the aspirations of the whole nation.
The president had defended his decree as necessary to prevent courts still full of judges appointed by deposed autocrat Hosni Mubarak from derailing a constitution vital for Egypt's political transition.
The new decree, however, earned the ire of liberal figures, describing it as a “farce”.
“My first personal impression is that it is a limited and insufficient step,” Hussein Abdel Ghani, the spokesman for the opposition National Salvation Front, told Reuters.
“We repeatedly said that among our top demands is for the referendum to be delayed.”
Abdel Ghani added that his group would meet on Sunday to discuss a response to Morsi's initiative to cancel his old decree.
The April 6 movement also rejected the outcome of Saturday's talks.
"What happened is manipulation and a continuation of deception in the name of law and legitimacy," the group said.
"This is a farce," Ahmed Selim, a member of the opposition April 6 youth movement, told CNN.
He also vowed to "take to the streets nationwide to continue to protest this dictator and his stubbornness."
"We are not fools and this new decree serves no one but his followers," Selim said.
In contrast, Ayman Nour, a liberal opposition leader who attended the meeting at the palace, described the cancellation of the decree as a positive step."(It) has opened the door to a possible solution to a national crisis and may calm the situation down," he said.
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