Middle East

Egypt crisis: Morsi offers concession in decree annulment

  • 9 December 2012
  • From the section Middle East
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Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has offered a concession to opponents by annulling a decree that hugely expanded his powers and sparked angry protests.

But a controversial referendum on a draft constitution planned for 15 December will still go ahead.

Halting the referendum is a key demand of the opposition and some have already dismissed Mr Morsi's latest move.

The president's critics accuse him of acting like a dictator, but he says he is safeguarding the revolution.

Ahmed Said, head of the Free Egyptians Party, a leading member of the main opposition National Salvation Front coalition, said Mr Morsi's latest announcement was "shocking" as it did not halt the referendum.

The National Salvation Front will meet on Sunday before issuing a formal response.

'Duping the people'

Mr Morsi's decree of 22 November stripped the judiciary of any right to challenge his decisions and triggered violent protests on the streets of Cairo.

"The constitutional decree is annulled from this moment," said Selim al-Awa, an Islamist politician acting as a spokesman for a meeting Mr Morsi held with political and public figures on Saturday.

But he said the referendum on a new constitution would go ahead because it was not legally possible for the president to postpone it.

The meeting had been boycotted by the main opposition leaders who had earlier called for their supporters to step up their protests.

The BBC's Jon Leyne in Cairo says Mr Morsi's move is the first big sign of compromise but that it is unlikely to end the current crisis.

Our correspondent says the tanks, barbed wire and concrete blocks around the presidential palace show what great pressure Mr Morsi is under.

Ahmed Said told Reuters news agency that Mr Morsi's latest move would "make things a lot worse".

"I cannot imagine that after all this they want to pass a constitution that does not represent all Egyptians," he said.

Another opposition group, the April 6 Youth Movement, said the announcement was "a political manoeuvre aimed at duping the people".

Some opposition protesters on the streets were also unimpressed by the decree annulment.

One, Amr al-Libiy, told Reuters: "He didn't change his decision or the constitutional decree until people were killed... so we will not leave until he leaves."

However, another told Associated Press he hoped the move would "end the bloodshed", saying: "We called for something and now it's been achieved."

Pro-Morsi protesters have also continued to demonstrate - angry at what they say is media bias against the president.

Set on fire

Although the decree has been annulled, some decisions taken under it still stand.

The general prosecutor, who was dismissed, will not be reinstated, and the retrial of the former regime officials will go ahead.

Earlier, Egypt's powerful military warned 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.

The president's supporters say the judiciary is made up of reactionary figures from the old regime of strongman Hosni Mubarak.

But his opponents have mounted almost continuous protests since the decree was passed.

They are also furious over the drafting of the new constitution because they see the process as being dominated by Mr Morsi's Islamist allies.

Several people have been killed in the recent spate of anti-government protests, and the presidential palace has come under attack.

The Cairo headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood, the movement to which Mr Morsi belongs, were set on fire.