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8 Dec, 2012 20:18

Morsi to relinquish expanded powers, hold referendum as planned

Morsi to relinquish expanded powers, hold referendum as planned

Following a meeting with the opposition, the Egyptian president has decided to keep a constitutional referendum on schedule, but will scrap the decree that gave him sweeping powers and sparked violent nationwide protests, officials say.

“The constitutional decree is annulled from this moment,” said Selim al-Awa, an Islamist politician acting as spokesman of the meeting, adding that the committee recommended the removal of several articles shielding Morsi from judicial oversight and granting him powers to declare emergency laws, AFP reports.The statement comes after a meeting with the opposition, called by Morsi in an effort to quell the violent protests that have shaken the country for two weeks.“There is no power that would choose to prevent the people from participating in the referendum,” said Egyptian Vice President Mahmoud Mekky.The committee made sure the referendum would be held on time, Mekky stated, adding that it could be held in several phases if the number of participating judges was insufficient.However, the majority of the discussion committee's 54 members were Islamists as most of the country's main opposition groups opted out, including the crucial National Salvation Front led by former presidential candidates Mohamed El Baradei, Hamdeen Sabbahi and Amr Moussa.The National Salvation Front considers annulling the decree a “relatively meaningless” move, and vows to escalate the opposition.“We respect that he was elected with 51.7 per cent of the vote, but 48 per cent did not vote for him,” a spokesman for the NSF told Al Jazeera. “That means that he has to compromise – he has to build a consensus.”Meanwhile, the April 6 movement has stated that all those who participated in the discussions between the Egypt’s government and the opposition on Saturday “have no power over the protesters,” Naharnet reports.While maintaining that it must protect the country, Egypt's military had called on Morsi to find a compromise with the opposition.“Anything other than that will force us into a dark tunnel with disastrous consequences; something that we won't allow,” the military's statement read. “The armed forces … realize their responsibility to preserve the higher interests of the country and to secure and protect vital targets, public institutions and the interests of innocent citizens.”

Local media hint that Morsi might soon reimpose martial law, which had been the status quo in Egypt for six decades until the overthrow of the Hosni Mubarak government. Morsi's November 22 emergency decree and the draft constitution days later sent the country into turmoil, where at least seven people were killed and hundreds more injured in riots nationwide. With the new decree, Morsi allocated himself overwhelming powers until the approval of a new draft constitution, which set to be completed by referendum on December 15.

Morsi has resource to 'crush' opposition

The situation in Egypt will remain dangerous, as the opposition will try to avoid the constitutional vote scheduled for next Saturday at any cost, Lawrence Davidson, a professor of Middle East history at Westchester University, told RT."I don't think that the Brotherhood, the Salafis and the rest of the Islamic population in Egypt – which makes up the majority – will stand against being pushed out. So it is a very, very dangerous situation. It is potentially very violent situation. I do not think the army is going to keep them out, therefore I think the ball is in the opposition's court."The opposition wants to rewrite the revolution and hold new elections to get rid of Morsi altogether, Davidson says."Essentially they want new elections, and they want a new constituent assembly and a new constitution. And they are trying to force that on Morsi, and he is trying to figure out a way to avoid that."But the danger lies, the professor says, in the fact that the opposition only represents a minority – and the president has the power to force the new constitution through."I don't think the opposition understands that they are in fact a minority, not the majority. I think, he [Morsi] thinks that if the vote goes ahead, he could marshall his forces and have the constitution passed. And I think the opposition knows that he can do that, therefore they want to stop that vote," Davidson explained, adding "he does have the resources to crush them if he wanted."