Egypt President Mohamed Morsi called off late on Saturday the controversial constitutional declaration that prompted violence and political turmoil the past few days.
Islamic scholar Mohamed Selim El-Awa, who was among more than 40 national figures attending a lengthy meeting that Morsi called for in a bid to ease growing tensions between the president and opposition, revealed that a new constitutional declaration will replace the 22 November decree.
The announcement, however, heeds only one of the two key demands of the anti-Morsi protesters.
El-Awa said the referendum on the new draft constitution, slated for 15 December, will go ahead as scheduled, defying the demonstrators who believe the proposed national chart does not fulfill the aspirations of Egyptians.
“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,” El-Awa read out one of the articles of the new constitutional declaration.
At least seven were killed and hundreds injured when thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members confronted anti-Morsi protesters in front of the presidential palace in Cairo last Wednesday, sending shockwaves across the country.
Defiant protesters demanded the annulment of Morsi’s decree, which shielded his decisions from judicial review and protected the Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly and the upper house of parliament (Shura Council) from dissolution.
The new constitutional declaration is also immune from legal challenge as Morsi, who has been in office for around five months, seeks to avoid a fresh impasse.
It remains to be seen whether new constitutional declaration will be sufficient to appease the anti-Morsi protesters, many of whom have camped out in front of the presidential palace since last Tuesday.
“The president does not have the authority to postpone the referendum in order not to violate the March 2011 constitutional declaration,” El-Awa added.
Last year's constitutional declaration, which was issued by then-ruling military council, stipulates that a referendum on draft constitution must be held within 15 days after the president receives the draft from a Constituent Assembly.
The contentious draft constitution was handed to Morsi by the outgoing Constituent Assembly on 1 December and the president scheduled a referendum on the chart for 15 December.
“If the people voted yes, the country will begin the process of building institutions to achieve stability,” El-Awa stated.
Many prominent opposition figures boycotted Saturday’s National Dialogue, with reform campaigner Mohamed ElBaradei describing it as “arm-twisting.”
The National Salvation Front, which was set up by ElBaradei and ex-presidential candidates Hamdeen Sabbahi and Amr Moussa to oppose Morsi’s recent decisions, insisted that the president revoke the decree before a dialogue is held.
However, Morsi wanted to meet opposition “without any preconditions.”