Egypt’s president pulls back on power decree, pushes referendum

Read a version of this story in Arabic.

Story highlights

NEW: Youth leader dismisses the move, describing it as a "farce"

The decree gave Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy sweeping powers

He vows to move forward with a December 15 referendum on a draft constitution

The opposition wants the referendum postponed

Cairo CNN  — 

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy early Sunday canceled most of a controversial decree that gave him sweeping powers, but vowed to press forward with a referendum next weekend on a draft constitution, an adviser said.

The move was an apparent attempt to end a political crisis that has spilled into the streets, pitting the president’s supporters and opponents against one another and raising questions about Morsy’s ability to lead the fragile democracy.

Almost as soon as adviser Mohamed Selim el-Awwa laid out the offer, many in the opposition dismissed it.

The cancellation of the decree, which put Morsy’s decisions above judicial oversight, was not retroactive, meaning any decisions he made since its announcement still stand. Those decisions, which include the approval of the draft constitution, cannot be challenged by the courts.

Also, the president did not postpone a December 15 referendum on the draft constitution, as protesters demand.

The development came after a meeting at the presidential palace that many in the opposition boycotted.

“This is a farce,” said Ahmed Selim, a member of the opposition April 6 youth movement, vowing to “take to the streets nationwide to continue to protest this dictator and his stubbornness.”

“We are not fools and this new decree serves no one but his followers,” Selim said.

In contrast, Ayman Nour, an opposition leader who attended the meeting at the palace, described the cancellation of the decree as a positive step.

“(It) has opened the door to a possible solution to a national crisis and may calm the situation down,” he said.

Egyptian authorities said at least six people have been killed in violent clashes in recent days, while the Muslim Brotherhood – the group that backs Morsy – has said eight of its members were killed.

The crisis erupted in late November when Morsy issued the edict allowing himself to run the country unchecked until a new constitution was drafted, a move that sat uncomfortably with many Egyptians who said it reminded them of ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s rule.

Morsy had said the powers were necessary and temporary. But that promise did little to quiet the opposition.

Anger at Morsy’s move led to protesters reoccupying Tahrir Square, the scene of the Arab Spring uprising that saw Mubarak ousted in 2011. Thousands later protested outside the palace, where the opposition clashed with the Muslim Brotherhood.

The anger only grew when the Islamist-dominated Constitutional Assembly pushed through a draft despite the objections of the secular opposition, including some members who walked out in protest. Tens of thousands of protesters – for and against Morsy – took to the streets.

A coalition of Egyptian Islamic parties, including the Brotherhood, rejects any postponement in the constitutional referendum, the Islamic Forces Alliance announced Saturday on the Brotherhood website.

The deputy head of Muslim Brotherhood, Khairet El-Shatir, also read the Alliance’s statement in a press conference.

The Alliance won’t allow under any circumstance the return of the corrupt Mubarak regime. El-Shatir said. The Alliance includes 13 parties such as the Al-Nour party and the Salafist front.

The statement also warned against manipulating the will of the people by forcefully overtaking the state.

“We assure the Egyptian people that the Alliance of the Islamic Forces is very keen to preserve the security of the homeland, stopping the bloodshed,” El-Shatir said.

Egypt’s military leaders, who took control of the country after Mubarak’s ouster, were keeping a wary eye on the developments, according to a statement released by the Egyptian armed forces and read on state-media.

“The armed forces are watching with sadness and worries the current developments in the country, with its consequences and how it led to divisions,” the statement said, according to state media.

“We stress that dialogue is the ideal and only solution to reach an agreement that realizes the interests of the nation and its citizens. Anything other than that will lead us into a dark tunnel with catastrophic consequences, which we will never allow to happen.”

Adel Saeed, a spokesman for Egypt’s newly appointed general prosecutor, said Friday morning that opposition figures Hamdeen Sabahy, Mohamed El Baradei and Amr Moussa are being investigated for allegedly “conspiring to topple” the government.

All three are well-known internationally; ElBaradei being a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Moussa a onetime head of the Arab League, and Sabahy is an Egyptian political figure. They are now being probed for their role in the opposition against Morsy.

ElBaradei said on Twitter: “I call upon all the national forces and figures not to participate in a dialogue that lacks all the basics of a truthful discourse. We support a dialogue that is not based on the policy of arm-twisting and forcing the status quo.”

Those taking part in the protests around the North African nation say the scenes are similar to those of the 2011 uprising that led to Mubarak’s ouster. This time, they say, dissent is being vigorously stamped out by Morsy’s backers in government and on the street.

Specifically, they spoke of thugs with knives and rocks chasing activists, presidential backers belittling opponents and pressure from various quarters to go home and be quiet.

“It’s exactly the same battle,” said Hasan Amin, a CNN iReporter.

CNN’s Amir Ahmed, Chelsea J. Carter, Yousuf Basil, Michael Martinez, Dana Ford and journalist Mohamed Fadel Fahmy contributed to this report.