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Egyptian President Gives Up Some Powers
December 10, 2012

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In an attempt to defuse the growing constitutional crisis, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has rescinded some of his expansive powers but left intact other powers and the December 15 referendum on the country's draft constitution.

Morsi, who had at one point threatened to impose martial law for the next few days until the voting took place, issued a new decree that invalidated key parts of the original November 22 decree. Specifically, the new decree reinstated judicial oversight to presidential actions. Morsi had said originally that he was trying to safeguard the revolution that removed former President Hosni Mubarak from power after decades of authoritarian rule. The judiciary, made up mostly of Mubarak appointees, had already dissolved one house of Parliament and the first group of lawmakers writing the draft constitution. Morsi said that he had wanted to ensure that the constitution was written and the referendum took place, after which time he would give up all of the new powers he assumed.

But the decree didn't sit will with opposition leaders and protesters, who accused Morsi of assuming dictatorial powers. Key opposition figures like Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed El-Baradei and Amr Moussa formed a political group called the National Salvation Front, and they encouraged the street protests that resulted in more than 100,000 people gathering in Cairo's Tahrir Square and tens of thousands of people ringing the presidential palace in Heliopolis. Army troops had stepped in to protect the palace, ringing it with stone and barbed wires barriers. As the crowds around the barriers grew, some stepped forward and cut through the wires but went no further than standing outside the palace shouting for reform. A handful of people died and hundreds were injured in a clash between protesters and pro-Morsi supporters.

The opposition has also voiced issues with the constitution, which was drafted, in the end, by Islamist lawmakers, representing the majority voted into Parliament earlier this year. Christian and other liberal members of the assembly had withdrawn from the process in order to protest what they saw as legal approval for the restriction of freedom of expression and other human rights.

Opposition leaders have urged a boycott of the referendum and pre-empted the expected results by saying that a low turnout would cast doubts on the legitimacy of the constitution. The opposition had also boycotted a national dialogue set up by Morsi, at which he announced his revised decree.

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