Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi’s decision to withdraw a decree broadening his powers failed to appease opponents who vowed to keep up protests against a draft constitution.
Hundreds of Egyptians marched to the presidential palace after dark last night to protest the charter, which is due to go to a referendum on Dec. 15. Opponents say the document, written by an Islamist-dominated panel, infringes on freedoms and fails to protect the rights of women and minorities. The Muslim Brotherhood also held counter-rallies yesterday outside the group’s headquarters to support Mursi.
The decision to revoke the president’s Nov. 22 decree “offered nothing new and is an attempt to dodge” opposition demands, Heba Yaseen, a spokeswoman for the Popular Current opposition movement, said by phone yesterday. The decisions of the president “don’t come close to meeting our demands or goals.”
The now-abandoned edict and a decision to refer the charter to a referendum prompted thousands of people to protest in the most serious challenge to Mursi’s rule since he took office in June. Weeks of demonstrations and deadly clashes between Mursi’s supporters and opponents have threatened to derail Egypt’s efforts to establish a democracy after last year’s uprising against Hosni Mubarak. The economy has foundered as the upheaval keeps investors and tourists away.
The benchmark EGX 30 Index gained 4.4 percent at the 2:30 p.m. close in Cairo.
Prime Minister Hisham Qandil called for an end to all sit-ins and urged Egyptians to head to the polls on Dec. 15 to express their views through the ballot box, MENA reported.
“The new constitutional decree has sided with the will of the people,” presidential spokesman Yasser Ali wrote on Twitter. “I hope, as we move toward the referendum, that everyone submits to the will of the people, whatever their choice may be.”
The reversal of the November decree, which had exempted Mursi’s decisions from judicial review, was announced in a statement read on state television early Dec. 8.
The referendum won’t be postponed, according to the statement. If the document is rejected, a new committee will be asked to draft a new constitution. Opposition groups have said that they want the referendum shelved and a new constitution-writing panel formed that has wider representation.
The head of Egypt’s lawyers’ association, Sameh Ashour, speaking on behalf of the National Salvation Front during a televised news conference yesterday, called for protests against the constitution on Dec. 11
“We are now in a real revolution to topple the rule of Muslim Brotherhood,” he said.
The Egyptian Islamists Coalition called on its supporters to also rally on Dec. 11 to support Mursi’s new decree and the referendum on the constitution, Al-Jazeera television reported.
Near the presidential palace after dark, a group of protesters banged on drums, singing “leave” as members of the Republican Guard, some perched on tanks, looked on. The nearby compound walls were covered in anti-Mursi graffiti.
“Power will not protect you from accountability in the afterlife,” read one message. A banner strung between power poles called on Mursi to “hold back your thugs.” In one corner, two strangers debated whether to boycott the referendum or vote no. A low turnout could divide an opposition that put aside its differences to unite against Mursi.
“Now that blood has been shed, we cannot take part in this game,” said Nancy Attia, 27, who is arguing for a boycott. “I no longer recognize this president, how can I vote on a constitution he put to a vote?”
Ahmed Safwat, 45, who is calling for others to vote against the charter, said, “We must go to the polls and organize ourselves just like they do,” referring to the Brotherhood.
“If we boycott, the constitution will pass and will gain legitimacy,” he said.
Vice President Mahmoud Mekki said the army has been mobilized to maintain security, in a statement televised by Al Arabiya television. Egypt’s Cabinet approved a measure allowing the army to use the force “necessary to perform their duty” to maintain security and protect vital state institutions, Cairo-based Al Ahram newspaper said yesterday. Police in anti-riot gear stood behind barbed wire on one of the roads leading to the palace yesterday.
The government delayed yesterday’s scheduled start of voting in the referendum by expatriate Egyptians to Dec. 12, according to Ahram Online.
Mohammed Badie, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s leader, called yesterday for voters to decide on the referendum.
“Why not use the ballot as the referee?” he said at a press conference in Cairo.