President Mohamed Mursi said Egypt’s new constitution ushered in an era of democracy, reaching out to his opposition with an offer for dialogue to create the stability needed to revive an economy hit by political unrest.
Mursi, facing mounting criticism from an opposition movement concerned that he and the Muslim Brotherhood are monopolizing power, said he asked Prime Minister Hisham Qandil to make the “necessary” changes in the Cabinet to address the needs of the coming period. He saluted both those who supported and voting against the charter, saying the differences were a healthy manifestation in a nation moving toward democracy.
The comments yesterday, though sweeping, were vague and offered little in terms of concrete proposals to overcome the polarization that has deepened since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster as Egypt’s leader last year. The unrest is likely to increase as the opposition gears up ahead of the expected start in two months of parliamentary elections that will show whether Islamists can maintain the majority they enjoyed under the now- dissolved legislature or lose ground to secular opponents.
“We do not want to return to an era of the opinion of one,” Mursi said in televised comments a day after officials announced the constitution was approved by 64 percent of those voting. The new charter, he said, doesn’t allow the president to be an “absolute master or a tyrannical ruler.”
The two-stage referendum that ended Dec. 22 was preceded by clashes between Mursi’s Islamist backers and a fragmented opposition of secularists, minority Christians and youth activists.
The opposition has rejected earlier calls for a dialogue and showed little indication of embracing the latest offer, even as Mursi said there was “no alternative” than to talk.
“The fight against the constitution will continue through all the democratic mechanisms, whether through protests, sit-ins and parliamentary elections,” Hussein Abdel-Ghani, spokesman for the opposition umbrella movement, the National Salvation Front, was quoted as saying by the state-run Ahram Online.
The Supreme Constitutional Court completed its restructuring, in line with the new constitution, with the nation’s top court now made up of 10 members versus 19, the state-run Middle East News Agency reported. No longer included among the justices listed by MENA as retaining their posts was Tahani el-Gebali, who had been the source of ire for Islamists.
The tensions have further roiled an economy battered in the wake of last year’s uprising, with Standard & Poor’s on Dec. 24 pushing deeper into junk status Egypt’s sovereign rating. The ratings company cited the current political instability in a nation where foreign reserves remain almost 60 percent below their pre-uprising levels. The central bank issued a statement to offer reassurances it was doing all that was necessary to guarantee deposits.
The government “is playing its role as best as it can under difficult circumstances,” Mursi said. New projects and investment facilities would be offered in the “coming days,” he said.
“I will exert my utmost efforts, together with you, to boost the Egyptian economy, which is facing big challenges but also has big opportunities,” Mursi said.
His critics maintain the constitution, which was hastily approved by the Islamist-dominated body that drafted it, enshrines Islamic law at the expense of certain freedoms and doesn’t reflect the nation’s diversity. Almost 70 percent of the roughly 52 million eligible to vote abstained from the vote.
Egypt’s constitution is “void as it conflicts with certain peremptory norms of international law,” such as freedom of belief and expression, Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei said on his Twitter account yesterday.
Mursi said he had passed to the until-now largely advisory Shura Council, parliament’s upper house, legislative authority he had held after a court ordered the dissolution of parliament’s lower chamber. The Council yesterday swore in 90 new members Mursi had appointed days earlier, readying itself for its new role until the parliamentary elections start.
Many of the changes the government will have to make, such as curbing subsidies that consume roughly a quarter of government spending, are likely to be poorly received in a nation where, according to government figures, the number of people living under the poverty line climbed to 25 percent in 2011, compared with 21 percent the previous year.
An effort earlier this month to introduce new taxes on some items, such as cigarettes, sparked anger and prompted the government to backtrack from the decision. Mursi vowed the changes would not affect the poor under what he called the “second republic.”
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