Egyptian reactions vary to President Morsi's new constitutional decree

Ahram Online, Sunday 9 Dec 2012

While much of Egypt's political opposition rejected President's Morsi's new constitutional decree, Islamist forces welcome it as 'positive step'

The decree issued on Saturday night by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi following a round of national dialogue aimed at calming ongoing protests has done little to change the minds of much of the opposition.

"We have broken the siege of fear; a constitution that aborts our rights and freedoms is a constitution that we will overthrow today, if not tomorrow. Our strength is in our will," said prominent reform campaigner and founder of the National Salvation Front Mohamed ElBaradei via twitter following the cancellation of the decree, which states that, if the draft constitution is not approved in the upcoming referendum, a new Constituent Assembly would be drawn up.

The National Salvation Front has said it would issue a statement soon, following a meeting with its members, spelling out its stance on the new decree.

Ahmed Maher's April 6 Youth Movement has voiced its complete rejection of the outcome of Saturday's national dialogue, which ended with the issuance of Morsi's new constitutional declaration.

"Nothing has been achieved except the freezing of the dictatorial constitutional decree, while maintaining all that has resulted from it," the group asserted in a statement.

The movement went on to complain that, according to Morsi's new decree, Egypt's new prosecutor-general, Talaat Ibrahim, who replaced Mubarak-era prosecutor-general Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud, would remain in his post for another four years.

The movement also insisted on its demand to reverse Morsi's 22 November constitutional decree and everything that has emanated from it; postpone a scheduled 15 December constitutional referendum; and launch a new project for a "consensual constitution" that achieves social justice and represents Egypt's revolution.

Ahmed Borai, deputy head of the Constitution Party and member of the National Salvation Front, stated during an interview with the private Sada Al-Balad channel that putting the constitution before a popular referendum would impose the president's will on society. Borai described the draft constitution as a "crime against Egypt."

"We call on the president to rethink his decision before he takes Egypt into a dark tunnel," added Borai.

Several legal experts, for their part, also criticised Saturday's announcement on social network websites.

Constitution expert Nour Farahat claimed that the intention behind the new constitutional decree was to pre-empt the possible refusal of the judiciary to supervise the referendum while allowing the poll to take place as scheduled.  

Farahat further argued that the president was not entitled to issue constitutional declarations, a practice which, he said, could be overruled by the courts soon, leading the country into a "new political and legal trap."

Lawyer and former presidential candidate Khaled Ali, for his part, also slammed the new decree, describing it as "manipulative."

"We refuse manipulation. Down with the project for this constitution," he stated. "We demand the formation of a balanced Constituent Assembly that represents different segments of society, and the appointment of a judge to investigate the torture and killing that occurred [last week] in the presidential palace."

Human rights lawyer Gamal Eid did not differ with Ali, also describing the decree as "manipulative and misleading."

"The [22 November] decree physically remains, even if it was cancelled in theory," said Eid.

Eid further questioned Morsi's promises regarding investigations into the killing of protesters during last year's uprising, after the president had earlier ignored them to "protect the criminal military leaders."

The battle is not about voting "No" on the draft constitution, says Eid. "The battle is about exposing the falseness of this constitution and the way it was drafted," he stated.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian Current party founded by ex-members of the Muslim Brotherhood saw the cancellation of the 22 November constitutional decree as a positive step.

The party nevertheless expressed its wish that the decision also include the postponement of the constitutional referendum to give the Egyptian people a chance to read and understand the draft charter.

According to state news agency MENA, Egypt's Salafist Calling has embraced the new decree and is calling on Egyptians to vote "yes" so as to ensure an exit from the current period of instability.

The group went on to reject calls for postponing the constitutional referendum.

"The decree issued by the presidency following dialogue with various political forces and parties reflects how keen it is to secure the nation's interests," Muslim Brotherhood lawyer Abdel-Moneim Abdel-Maqsoud said in a press statement.

Abdel-Maqsoud added that the main goal of the president's decision was to ensure national security and stability.

Furthermore, Brotherhood leader Mohamed El-Beltagi stated that Saturday's decree was a "positive step" aimed at breaking the deadlock and safeguarding the country's democratic transition.

"We will lovingly deal with all of our differences, but we will also expose those who want to sow bloodshed and chaos," he added.

El-Beltagi, whose group has opposed the protests against the constitutional declaration, went on to praise "the free revolutionaries" who stood against the constitutional declaration "until it was corrected."

In response to the new decree, opposition forces are calling for five marches to the presidential palace in Cairo's Heliopolis district on Sunday.

The marches, which will join a pre-existing sit-in, will leave at 5pm from Al-Nour Mosque in Abbasyia; Al-Saea Square in Nasr City; Alf Maskan Square in Gesr Al-Suez; and the Sheikh Kishk Mosque at Hadayek Al-Kobba.

Marchers will denounce the results of Saturday's national dialogue meeting and the upcoming constitutional referendum, and demand prosecution of those responsible for the "bloody attacks" at the presidential palace last week.

President Morsi's supporters also staged rallies on Sunday at the Muslim Brotherhood's headquarters in Cairo's Moqattam district to voice support for the cancellation of the 22 November constitutional declaration.

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