News and Views

Egypt’s president cancels decree that sparked protests

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CAIRO (Reuters) – Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi has cancelled a decree that gave him sweeping powers and sparked huge protests, but did not delay a referendum on a constitution as his opponents had demanded.

The announcement came from the spokesman for politicians and other figures who took part in a national dialogue on Saturday convened by the Islamist president. But the main opposition group stayed away, so the talks had little credibility among protesters.

One of the opposition’s main demands was to scrap a referendum on a constitution that was drafted by an Islamist-led assembly. Liberals and others quit the assembly, saying their voices were not being heard.

But that vote will go ahead on December 15 as planned.

Officials said those at Saturday’s talks had discussed a delay but found legal obstacles prevented any change in the date for the referendum.

The president issued a new decree in which the first article “cancels the constitutional declaration” announced on November 22, spokesman Mohamed Selim al-Awa told a news conference. Last month’s decree had led to protests and deadly violence.

The new decree excluded some elements from the old decree that had angered the opposition, including one article that gave the president broad powers to confront threats to the revolution or the nation, wording that the opposition said gave him arbitrary authority to act.

Another article in the old decree had put beyond legal challenge any decision taken by the president since he took office on June 30 and until a new parliament was elected, a step that can only happen when a new constitution is in place.

Although that article was not repeated, an article in the new decree put “constitutional declarations including this declaration” beyond judicial review.

The new decree also outlined steps for setting up an assembly to draft a new constitution should the current draft be rejected at a referendum the decree said would be held on December 15.

The spokesman for the main opposition coalition that boycotted Saturday’s talks, the National Salvation Front, said his group would meet on Sunday to discuss the announcement, but added his personal view was that it was not enough.

(Reporting by Yasmine Saleh; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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