Egypt’s Mursi calls referendum as Islamists march

CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt’s President Mohamed Mursi called a Dec. 15 referendum on a draft constitution yesterday as at least 200,000 Islamists demonstrated in Cairo to back him after opposition fury over his newly expanded powers.

Speaking after receiving the final draft of the constitution from the Islamist-dominated assembly, Mursi urged a national dialogue as the country nears the end of the transition from Hosni Mubarak’s rule.

“I renew my call for opening a serious national dialogue over the concerns of the nation, with all honesty and impartiality, to end the transitional period as soon as possible, in a way that guarantees the newly-born democracy,” Mursi said.

Mursi plunged Egypt into a new crisis last week when he gave himself extensive powers and put his decisions beyond judicial challenge, saying this was a temporary measure to speed Egypt’s democratic transition until the new constitution is in place.

His assertion of authority in a decree issued on Nov. 22, a day after he won world praise for brokering a Gaza truce between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist Hamas movement, dismayed his opponents and widened divisions among Egypt’s 83 million people.

Two people have been killed and hundreds wounded in protests by disparate opposition forces drawn together and re-energised by a decree they see as a dictatorial power grab.

Mohamed Mursi

A demonstration in Cairo to back the president swelled through the afternoon, peaking in the early evening at at least 200,000, said Reuters witnesses, basing their estimates on previous rallies in the capital. The authorities declined to give an estimate for the crowd size.

“The people want the implementation of God’s law,” chanted flag-waving demonstrators, many of them bussed in from the countryside, who choked streets leading to Cairo University, where Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood had called the protest.

Tens of thousands of Egyptians had protested against Mursi on Friday. “The people want to bring down the regime,” they chanted in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, echoing the trademark slogan of the revolts against Hosni Mubarak and Arab leaders elsewhere.

Rival demonstrators threw stones after dark in the northern city of Alexandria and a town in the Nile Delta. Similar clashes erupted again briefly in Alexandria on Saturday, state TV said.

Mohamed Noshi, 23, a pharmacist from Mansoura, north of Cairo, said he had joined the rally in Cairo to support Mursi and his decree. “Those in Tahrir don’t represent everyone. Most people support Mursi and aren’t against the decree,” he said.

Mohamed Ibrahim, a hardline Salafi Islamist scholar and a member of the constituent assembly, said secular-minded Egyptians had been in a losing battle from the start.

“They will be sure of complete popular defeat today in a mass Egyptian protest that says ‘no to the conspiratorial minority, no to destructive directions and yes for stability and sharia (Islamic law)‘,” he told Reuters.

Mursi has alienated many of the judges who must supervise the referendum. His decree nullified the ability of the courts, many of them staffed by Mubarak-era appointees, to strike down his measures, although says he respects judicial independence.

A source at the presidency said Mursi might rely on the minority of judges who support him to supervise the vote.
“Oh Mursi, go ahead and cleanse the judiciary, we are behind you,” shouted Islamist demonstrators in Cairo.
Mursi, once a senior Muslim Brotherhood figure, has put his liberal, leftist, Christian and other opponents in a bind. If they boycott the referendum, the constitution would pass anyway.

If they secured a “no” vote to defeat the draft, the president could retain the powers he has unilaterally assumed.
And Egypt’s quest to replace the basic law that underpinned Mubarak’s 30 years of army-backed one-man rule would also return to square one, creating more uncertainty in a nation in dire economic straits and seeking a $4.8 billion loan from the IMF.

Mursi’s well-organised Muslim Brotherhood and its ultra-orthodox Salafi allies, however, are convinced they can win the referendum by mobilising their own supporters and the millions of Egyptians weary of political turmoil and disruption.

“There is no place for dictatorship,” the president said on Thursday while the constituent assembly was still voting on a draft constitution which Islamists say enshrines Egypt’s new freedoms.

Human rights groups have voiced misgivings, especially about articles related to women’s rights and freedom of speech.
The text limits the president to two four-year terms, requires him to secure parliamentary approval for his choice of prime minister, and introduces a degree of civilian oversight over the military – though not enough for critics.

The draft constitution also contains vague, Islamist-flavoured language that its opponents say could be used to whittle away human rights and stifle criticism.
For example, it forbids blasphemy and “insults to any person”, does not explicitly uphold women’s rights and demands respect for “religion, traditions and family values”.

Latest in World News

Boris Johnson

Ex-London mayor Johnson abruptly quits race to be prime minister

LONDON, (Reuters) – Former London mayor Boris Johnson abruptly pulled out of the race to become Britain’s next prime minister today, in a shock move that upturned a political order shaken by last week’s vote to leave the European Union.

(L-R) Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Barack Obama pose for family photo at the North American Leaders’ Summit in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, June 29, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

North America leaders mount strong defence of trade despite threats

OTTAWA,  (Reuters) – Canada, the United States and Mexico yesterday mounted a fierce defence of free trade, vowing to deepen economic ties despite an increasingly acrimonious debate about the value of globalization.

default placeholder

Obama urges Venezuela to respect democratic process

OTTAWA, (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama yesterday urged the Venezuelan government to respect the democratic process and the rule of law, including allowing the release of political prisoners.

default placeholder

Six Honduran police officers indicted on U.S. drug charges

NEW YORK,  (Reuters) – Six members of the Honduran National Police were indicted yesterday on U.S. charges they participated in drug trafficking activities and conspired with a son of former Honduras President Porfirio Lobo to import cocaine into the United States.

default placeholder

China risks ‘outlaw’ status if it rejects South China Sea ruling -lawyer

WASHINGTON,  (Reuters) – An international ruling next month is expected to deprive China of any legal basis for its claim to most of the South China Sea, and Beijing risks being seen as an “outlaw state” unless it respects the outcome, the Philippines’ chief lawyer in the case said yesterday.

default placeholder

Fresh details spur debate on police response to Orlando massacre

(Reuters) – The release of police dispatch records offering new details from witnesses of the Orlando nightclub massacre provided fresh grist yesterday for the debate about whether law enforcement waited too long to take out the gunman.

default placeholder

India’s top court to consider intervening in Muslim ‘triple talaq’ divorce law

NEW DELHI,  (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – India’s Supreme Court said it will examine how far it could interfere in Muslim laws governing family-related issues as it heard a plea to end a practice allowing Muslim men to divorce their wives by saying “talaq” three times.

Malala Yousafzai

Price of fame: Pakistani schoolgirl Malala joins millionaires’ club

LONDON,  (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenage education activist who survived a near-fatal attack by the Taliban, and her family have become millionaires in under four years due to sales of a book about her life and appearances on the global speaker circuit.

Comments

About these comments

The comments section is intended to provide a forum for reasoned and reasonable debate on the newspaper's content and is an extension of the newspaper and what it has become well known for over its history: accuracy, balance and fairness. We reserve the right to edit or delete comments which contain attacks on other users, slander, coarse language and profanity, and gratuitous and incendiary references to race and ethnicity.

Stay updated! Follow Stabroek News on Facebook or Twitter.

Get the day's headlines from SN in your inbox every morning: