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Egypt decree that sparked protests cancelled

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Billed as a "national dialogue", the meeting was boycotted by his main rivals and had little credibility among protesters in the most populous Arab nation.

December 9, 2012 1:40 by



The National Salvation Front, whose members include Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradeiand former foreign minister Amr Moussa, stayed away from Saturday’s talks.

Ahead of stating its formal position, Front spokesman Hussein Abdel Ghani said: “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.”

Despite such opposition, Mursi is gambling he can push through the constitution via referendum with the backing of loyal Islamists and many Egyptians who are desperate to move on. Only after a constitution is in place can an election be held for a new parliament, expected about two months later.

The Islamist-led lower house of parliament elected this year was dissolved after a few months by a court order.

DISTRUST

The new decree removed some parts of the old decree that angered the opposition, including an article that had given Mursi broad powers to confront threats to the revolution or the nation, wording opponents said gave him arbitrary authority.

Another article in the old decree had put beyond legal challenge any decision taken by the president until a new parliament was elected, reflecting Mursi’s distrust of a judiciary largely unreformed from Mubarak’s era.

That article was not repeated, but the new decree said “constitutional declarations including this declaration” were beyond judicial review.

The new decree outlined steps for setting up an assembly to draft a new constitution should the current draft be rejected.

Further, the opposition was invited to offer suggested changes to the new constitution, echoing an earlier initiative by Mursi’s team for amendments to be discussed and agreed on by political factions and put to the new parliament to approve.

Amid the violence and political bickering, the army has cast itself primarily as the neutral guarantor of the nation.

“The armed forces affirm that dialogue is the best and only way to reach consensus,” the military statement said. “The opposite of that will bring us to a dark tunnel that will result in catastrophe and that is something we will not allow.”

The army might be pushing the opposition to join dialogue and for Mursi to do more to draw them in, said Hassan Abu Taleb of the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

He discounted the chance of direct military intervention. “They realise that interfering again in a situation of civil combat will squeeze them between two rocks,” he added.

But the military seemed poised to take a more active role in security arrangements for the approaching referendum.

A cabinet source said the cabinet had discussed reviving the army’s ability to make arrests if it were called upon to back up police, who are normally in charge of election security.

According to the state-run daily newspaper al-Ahram, an expanded military security role might extend to the next parliamentary election and, at the president’s discretion, even beyond that.



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