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Mursi retreats but vote remains a red rag

Cairo, Dec. 9 (Reuters): Egypt’s President has scrapped a decree that gave him extra powers and ignited violent protests, but irate opponents today said he had deepened the conflict by pressing on with a vote on a Constitution shaped by Islamists.

President Mohamed Mursi and his Islamist partisans have insisted the referendum should go ahead on December 15 to seal a democratic transition that began when a popular uprising felled Hosni Mubarak 22 months ago after three decades of one-man rule.

Ahmed Said, a liberal leader of the Opposition National Salvation Front, said Mursi’s withdrawal of his November 22 decree had not annulled its consequences, describing the race to a referendum as “shocking” and an “act of war” against Egyptians.

“I can’t imagine that after all this they want to pass a Constitution that doesn’t represent all Egyptians,” Said, head of the Free Egyptians Party, said.

The April 6 movement, prominent in the anti-Mubarak revolt, derided the result of Saturday’s talks as “manipulation and a continuation of deception in the name of law and legitimacy”.

Egypt tipped into turmoil after Mursi grabbed powers to stop any court action to hinder the transition. An Assembly led by Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists then swiftly approved the constitution it had spent six months drafting.

Liberals, leftists, Christians and others had already quit the Assembly in dismay, saying their voices were being ignored.

“A Constitution without consensus cannot go to a referendum,” said Hermes Fawzi, 28, a protester camped with dozens of others outside the presidential palace. “It’s not logical that just one part of society makes the constitution.”

More protests were planned near the palace, despite tanks, barbed wire and other barriers installed last week after clashes between Islamists and their rivals killed seven people.

The military, which led Egypt in transition for 16 turbulent months after Mubarak fell, told feuding factions yesterday that only dialogue could avert “catastrophe”. But a military source said these remarks were no prelude to an army takeover.

There is serious Western concern about growing Islamist power in Egypt, a close US strategic partner under Mubarak who preserved the US-brokered peace treaty Cairo signed with Israel in 1979.

Mursi issued a new decree whose first article “cancels the constitutional declaration” of November 22, the spokesman for the dialogue, Mohamed Selim al-Awa, told a news conference.

He said the referendum on the constitution would go ahead next Saturday, citing legal obstacles to a delay.

Egypt is torn between Islamists, who were suppressed for decades, and their rivals, who fear religious conservatives want to squeeze out other voices and restrict social freedoms. Many Egyptians just crave stability and economic recovery.

Each side has mobilised tens of thousands of supporters in rival rallies in Cairo and other cities. Mursi’s foes have chanted for his downfall. Islamists fear a plot to oust the most populous Arab nation’s first freely elected President.

 
 
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