Egypt panel recommends referendum be held on time
BY SARAH EL DEEB Associated Press
Sunday, December 09, 2012
12/09/12 at 6:01 AM
A national dialogue committee said a referendum on a disputed draft constitution will be held on schedule, but President Mohammed Morsi has agreed to rescind the power he had granted himself.
The statement came after a meeting that was boycotted by the main opposition leaders who are calling for the Dec. 15 vote to be canceled.
Morsi had called for the dialogue to try to defuse a spiraling crisis, but the decision appeared unlikely to appease the opposition since it recommends the referendum go ahead as scheduled. Morsi's initial declaration was to be rendered ineffective anyway after the referendum.
Gamal Eid, a human rights lawyer, said the recommendations to rescind some powers were a "play on words" since Morsi had already achieved the desired aim of finalizing the draft constitution and protecting it from a judicial challenge.
The charter, which would enshrine Islamic law and was drafted despite a boycott by secular and Christian members of the assembly, is at the heart of a political crisis that began Nov. 22 when Morsi granted himself authority without judicial oversight.
Opposition activists are camping outside the presidential palace and are calling for more protests on Sunday.
Several rallies on both sides have drawn tens of thousands of people into the streets and sparked fierce bouts of street battles that have left at least six people dead. Several offices of the president's Muslim Brotherhood also have been torched in the unrest.
Selim al-Awa, an Islamist at the meeting, said the committee found it would be a violation of earlier decisions to change the date of the referendum.
However, the committee recommended removing articles that granted Morsi powers to declare emergency laws and shield him from judicial oversight.
Bassem Sabry, a writer and activist, called the changes a "stunt" that would embarrass the opposition by making it look like Morsi was willing to compromise but not solve the problem.
"In the end, Morsi got everything he wanted," he said, pointing out the referendum would be held without the consensus Morsi had promised to seek and without giving people sufficient time to study the document.
The majority of the 54 members of the committee were Islamists, as well as members of the constitutional panel that drafted the disputed charter. But the main opponents were not present at the meeting, which lasted over 10 hours. Opponents say the draft constitution disregards the rights of women and Christians.
The president said his decrees were meant to protect the country's transition to democracy from former regime figures trying to derail it.
The deepening political rift in Egypt had triggered an earlier warning Saturday from the military of "disastrous consequences" if the constitutional crisis isn't resolved through dialogue.
It was the first political statement by the military since Morsi sidelined it from political life.
Original Print Headline: Egypt panel backs vote date
Egyptian protesters chant anti-Muslim Brotherhood and Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi slogans outside the presidential palace, background, under a banner with a defaced picture of Morsi and Arabic that reads "the people want to bring down the regime," in Cairo, Egypt, on Saturday. HASSAN AMMAR / Associated Press