In a dramatic U-turn, Egypt’s Islamist President Mohammed Morsi on Sunday annulled a controversial decree that had granted him Pharaoh-like powers, even as he rejected opposition demands to delay next week’s referendum on a new constitution.
In a major sign of compromise, Morsi revoked the controversial decree that had granted him sweeping powers, but decided that the referendum on the draft constitution would go ahead as planned on December 15.
Morsi’s U-turn came hours after state news media reported that he was moving toward imposing a form of martial law to secure the streets and allow the vote.
He however did not budge on a critical demand of the opposition — that he postpone the referendum set for next Saturday to allow a thorough overhaul of the proposed charter.
“The constitutional referendum will be held on its previously specified date of December 15 and the constitutional declaration issued by President Morsi on November 22 has been largely cancelled,” Mohamed Selim al-Awa, an Islamist politician and adviser to Morsi, announced Sunday.
The new constitutional declaration, however, will be immune from judicial appeal.
According to the new declaration, if a majority of Egyptians vote against the draft constitution, then a new Constituent Assembly will be elected in three months, and will have six months to draft a new one.
The cancellation of the decree, which put Morsi’s decisions above judicial oversight, was not retroactive, meaning any decisions he made since its announcement still stand.
The move comes after a week of protests against the referendum and constitutional declaration that lead to violent clashes between his supporters and opponents that killed at least seven people and injured nearly 700.
“The new declaration,” Awa said, “would not remove judicial oversight of Morsi’s decisions, but the President is still tasked with protecting the revolution and its causes, and his appointment of new Prosecutor General Talaat Ibrahim Abdallah will stand.”
The present political turmoil began after President Morsi granted himself absolute powers through the November 22 decree, a move which gained him titles like “dictator” and “Pharaoh”
The liberal opposition called for more protests Sunday, seeking to keep up the momentum of its street campaign after the president refused its main demand he rescind a draft constitution going to a referendum on December 15.
Khaled Dawood, spokesman for the National Salvation Front, the aggregation of opposition parties in Egypt, said annulling the decree was “relatively meaningless”.
“The key issue of securing the process of adapting of the