After threatening to impose martial law, Egypt’s besieged President Mohamed Morsi appeased opponents at a press conference late Saturday night, annulling part of the decree that temporarily expanded his executive powers beyond judicial oversight until a constitution was ratified.
But Morsi refused to postpone the Dec. 15 constitutional referendum that his political opposition, liberals and secularists claim does not safeguard individual freedoms and may allow religious conservatives to seize power.
“The constitutional decree is annulled from this moment,” announced Islamist politician Selim al-Awa in a statement, acting as Morsi’s spokesman. (Read an unofficial translation of Morsi’s new decree via Ahram Online here.)
Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets after Morsi declared on Nov. 22 that decrees issued by him were not open to appeal. Since then at least seven people have been killed and about 350 injured as Morsi supporters and opposition demonstrators clash, Al Jazeera reported.
More protests are scheduled for Sunday, with the Washington Post reporting at least three activist groups to march on the presidential palace.
Outside the presidential palace protester Hermes Fawzi, 28, told Reuters: “A constitution without consensus cannot go to a referendum. It’s not logical that just one part of society makes the constitution.”
Spokesman for the oppositional National Salvation Front, Khaled Dawood, told Al Jazeera the annulment was “relatively meaningless.”
“The key issue of securing the process of adapting of the constitution is done,” he said. “Unfortunately I don’t think the president is leaving us any other option than to escalate our opposition.”
Dawood added, “We respect [Morsi] was elected with 51.7 per cent of the vote, but 48 per cent did not vote for him. That means that he has to compromise, he has to build consensus.”
The April 6 group, an activist youth movement that played a significant role in dethroning Egypt’s former ruler Hosni Mubarak, dismissed Morsi’s annulment.
“What happened is manipulation and a continuation of deception in the name of law and legitimacy,” their statement said.
On state television Egypt’s powerful military, which took state control after Mubarak, issued its first statement since the protesting began, saying it strongly supported political dialogue.
“Dialogue is the best and only way to consensus in the interests of the nation and its citizens, otherwise we will be driven into a dark tunnel, of disastrous consequences, which will not be allowed,” a military spokesman said. Haaretz news said the statement was “more than a hint that it is in the best interest of both the opposition and the president to avoid dragging the military into the crisis.”
As GlobalPost’s Egypt correspondent Erin Cunningham points out from Cairo, it’s unclear what the judiciary will do at this point. The judicial body had escalated the situation by striking and announcing a boycott of the referendum.
“They could be the wild card in all this,” says Cunningham. “If they continue to boycott, the referendum could be a nightmare logistically, since they’re required by law to supervise elections. If this new amendment appeases them and they supervise, it might suck the air out of the opposition movement that has built their protests on the back of the judicial strike.”
If voters reject on Dec. 15 the constitutional draft, a new constitution will be written in six months, Voice of America reported.