President Morsi annuls decree
The BBC’s Shaimaa Khalil: “This is a major sign of compromise on the president’s part”
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has annulled a decree he issued last month that hugely expanded his powers and sparked angry protests, officials say.
However, a news conference in Cairo was told that a controversial referendum on a draft constitution would still go ahead as planned on 15 December.
Mr Morsi’s critics have accused him of acting like a dictator, but he says he is safeguarding the revolution.
Some opposition figures were quick to dismiss his latest move.
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.
This is a major sign of compromise on the president’s part and also an unexpected move.
In his speech last Thursday President Morsi showed no willingness to give up the absolute powers he granted himself and which gained him titles like “dictator” and “Pharaoh”.
But in a dramatic U-turn he has decided to give those powers up. This is good news for Egypt’s judiciary, which felt particularly insulted by the president’s decree because it basically deemed them powerless.
As for the opposition, it seems they’ve only won half the battle. The president did not budge on the other sticking point: the referendum on the controversial draft constitution. Vice-President Mahmoud Mekki said that a vote on the charter would go ahead as planned in a week’s time.
He said if the draft constitution was rejected by a popular vote then elections would be held for a new constituent assembly.
The reaction of the main opposition National Salvation Front will now be key to how events shape politically. Since the announcement of the decree Egypt has been deeply polarised and has plunged into a new wave of violence. It remains to be seen whether this annulment will defuse tension on Egypt’s volatile streets.
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.
They want both the decree and the referendum cancelled.
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.
The main opposition National Salvation Front said it would discuss the latest move on Sunday, but spokesman Hussein Abdel Ghani added: “My first personal impression is that it is a limited and insufficient step. We repeatedly said that among our top demands is for the referendum to be delayed.”
Another opposition group, the April 6 Youth Movement, said the announcement was “a political manoeuvre aimed at duping the people”.
It called for more protests to stop the referendum.
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.
Set on fire
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. bbc