Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi has called for a national dialogue over the weekend to resolve the political crisis sparked by a draft Constitution as well as his recent decree that made the President's decisions immune to judicial review.
In a televised address to the nation on Thursday night, Mursi said the planned referendum on the new Constitution drafted recently by an Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly would take place as scheduled on December 15.
Nevertheless, he proposed holding of a political dialogue with all Opposition parties, representatives of pro-democracy activists and legal experts at the presidential palace on Saturday to end the feud and discus a way forward after the vote on the new national charter.
Mursi stressed that he was prepared to drop the controversial clause in his recent decree that gave him sweeping powers free from legal challenges. He also accused loyalists of deposed President Hosni Mubarak and criminal gangs for the recent violence in the north African nation.
His address to the nation followed violent clashes between his supporters and opponents outside the presidential palace on Wednesday night, leaving at least five people dead and more than 600 injured. Security forces have since restored calm. Nevertheless, thousands of anti-Mursi protesters have begun a sit-in demonstration outside the presidential palace.
Mursi expressed regret at the deaths and detention of some 80 people who were "implicated in violent acts." Stressing that dialogue is the "only solution" to the crisis, Mursi said he considered himself responsible for the safety of "every Egyptian, whether they oppose or support me."
Egypt has been witnessing wide-spread Opposition protests and pro-government demonstrations ever since Mursi issued the decree last month. The measure's critics accuse Mursi as well as the Muslim Brotherhood, his parent organization, of betraying the Egyptian revolution by attempting to monopolize power after their recent electoral victory. They fear that Mursi's November 22 decree could endanger gains of the uprising.
Mursi's disputed decree states that all decisions, laws and declarations passed by the President, until a new Constitution is in place by mid-February, "are final and not subject to appeal" by any authority, including the judiciary. It also says that the Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly as well as the Lower House of the Parliament cannot be dissolved by any authority, including the judiciary.
Subsequently, the Constituent Assembly, an Islamist-dominated 100-member body tasked with drafting the country's new Constitution, had voted to adopt a new national charter with Islamic law, or Sharia, as the basis of legislation.
Nevertheless, liberal, left-wing and Christian members of the Assembly boycotted the vote, alleging that they were being bullied into subscribing the views of the panel's Islamist majority. Although Mursi has since ratified the new Constitution, it still needs to be approved in a referendum for it to come into force.
But the Judges Club, which represents almost all of the country's judges, declared earlier this week that none of its members would oversee the referendum as a sign of protest against the presidential decree. But Egypt's top judicial body, the Supreme Judicial Council, later agreed to oversee the referendum, thereby ensuring a judicial supervision over the voting.
Notably, lower court and appeals court judges are currently on a strike to protest the decree. The country's Supreme Constitutional Court joined the judges' strike on Sunday after it was prevented by Mursi supporters from convening to issue its ruling on the legality of the Parliament's Upper House and the Constituent Assembly that drafted the new Constitution.
In an effort to resolve the crisis, Mursi declared last week that the scope of the decree would be limited to "sovereign matters" designed to protect state institutions, stressing that he would shed the new powers once a Constitution was in place. But his announcement does not seem to have made any impact on his opponents as well as the country's judges.
Mursi, leader of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) — political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood - was sworn in as Egypt's first civilian and freely-elected President on June 30, following a popular revolt that ultimately forced Mubarak to step down in February last year after handing over power to the country's military. Mubarak has since been convicted of complicity in the deaths of anti-government protesters and sentenced to life in prison.
by RTT Staff Writer
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