Egypt's President Morsi calls for a nationwide referendum
Published Saturday, December 1, 2012 7:07AM EST
Last Updated Saturday, December 1, 2012 10:03PM EST
Just over a week after Egypt descended into renewed political turmoil and instability following Mohammed Morsi’s attempt to concentrate power, the president called Saturday for a referendum on the draft charter to be held in two weeks’ time.
The announcement was made Saturday as Morsi received Egypt's draft constitution.
"After receiving this draft constitution, and out of keenness to build the nation's institutions without delay or stalling, I will issue today the call for a public referendum on this draft charter on Saturday, Dec. 15," Morsi said. "I pray to God and hope that it will be a new day of democracy in Egypt."
Morsi’s attempt at conciliation occurred as more than 100,000 of his supporters rallied in the streets of Cairo, and in other parts of the country Saturday.
The demonstration, organized by the Muslim Brotherhood and ultraconservative Salafi groups, was an attempt to counter the protests held last week by their anti-Morsi counterparts -- mainly secularists and Christians who vehemently oppose the charter process and Morsi’s decrees that would grant him exemption from judicial oversight.
Morsi issued his decrees on Nov. 22 in an attempt to pre-empt the Supreme constitutional court, which was expected to dissolve the constitutional panel and the Islamist-dominated upper house of parliament on Sunday. Whether that will go ahead as planned remains in doubt, however, because most judges have gone on strikein protest, and said they would boycott observing the referendum, The Associated Press reported.
Under the emergency decrees, none of Morsi's decisions can be revoked by any authority -- including the judiciary -- until a new constitution has been ratified and a fresh parliamentary election held, not likely before the spring.
Morsi has said he will give up the powers as soon as the new constitution is approved by the referendum.
Morsi says he had to act to prevent courts from dissolving the assembly that wrote the draft constitution, which would have delayed the "revolution's goals" of a transition to democracy.
But a referendum call doesn’t appear to have quelled tensions.
Anti-Morsi protesters said they will renew street campaigns and threatened to march on the presidential palace in an attempt to stop a nationwide referendum.
Meanwhile, protesters gathered outside Cairo University on Saturday, under banners that read: "The people want the implementation of God's law" and "Yes to Islamic law".
The Brotherhood and harder-line Islamists won nearly 75 per cent of the seats in last winter's parliamentary election. But Morsi’s opponents argue he won just 25 per cent of votes in the first round of the presidential election, and yet has gone on to issue decrees granting himself sweeping powers.
Morsi went on to win the runoff by just over 50 per cent, after a hard-fought race against a former regime figure.
Thousands took to the streets across Egypt last week to show their opposition to Morsi, including 200,000 who packed the streets of Cairo alone. They demanded that Morsi repeal the decrees he issued on Nov. 22 that neutralized the judiciary.
election held, not likely before the spring..
Secularists say the draft has a distinctive Islamic bent and could restrict basic civil rights. Ultraconservatives, on the other hand, say the draft’s provisions for enforcing Shariah, or Islamic law, are not as firm as they had wished.
Nevertheless, the draft was passed by an Islamist-led assembly early Friday. But that came only after secular and Christian members had already quit the body in protest, saying Islamists had hijacked the process.
Highlights of the draft constitution include a limit on the presidency to two four-year terms, and some civilian oversight of the military.
With files from the Associated Press