CAIRO: An assembly raced through approval of a new constitution for Egypt yesterday to end a crisis over President Muhammad Mursi’s newly expanded powers, but opponents responded with another rally in Cairo against the new leader.
“The people want to bring down the regime,” they chanted in Tahrir Square, where hundreds had gathered, echoing the chants that rang out in the same place less than two years ago and brought down Hosni Mubarak.
Mursi said the decree halting court challenges to his decisions, which sparked eight days of protests and violence by Egyptians calling him a new dictator, was “for an exceptional stage,” aimed at speeding up the democratic transition.
“It will end as soon as the people vote on a constitution,” he told state television while the constituent assembly was still voting on the draft, which the hard-liners say reflects Egypt’s new freedoms. “There is no place for dictatorship.”
The opposition cried foul. Liberals, leftists, Christians, more moderate Muslims and others had withdrawn from the assembly, saying their voices were not being heard.
They called for big rallies across the country yesterday after tens of thousands protested against Mursi’s decree on Tuesday.
Protesters said they would push for a ‘no’ vote in a referendum, which could happen as early as mid-December. If approved, it would immediately cancel the president’s decree.
“We fundamentally reject the referendum and constituent assembly because the assembly does not represent all sections of society,” said Sayed El-Erian, 43, a protester in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. He is a member of the liberal Dostour (Constitution) Party, set up by prominent opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei.
“Leave, leave,” some chanted, another anti-Mubarak slogan.
The final draft contains historic changes to Egypt’s system of government. It limits to eight years the amount of time a president can serve, for example. Mubarak was in power for three decades. It also introduces a degree of oversight over the military establishment — though not enough for critics.
Mursi is expected to ratify the document by today, allowing a referendum to be held as soon as mid-December.
Critics argue it is an attempt to rush through a draft they say has been hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood, which backed Mursi for president in a June election, and its allies.
Eleven newspapers plan not to publish on Tuesday to protest Mursi’s decree, one reported. Al-Masry Al-Youm, one of Egypt’s most widely read dailies, also said three privately owned satellite channels would not broadcast on Wednesday in protest.