In an attempt to quell public anger in Egypt, President Morsi has backed off from the controversial decree that he issued a month ago that put him above the law and granted him unregulated powers. In another u-turn decision today, Morsi suspended planned tax increases on a number of goods, including fuel, electricity, steel, cement, cigarettes, and alcohol. He does aim to proceed with the 15 December vote on the constitution. The small conciliations may be considered too little too late for many Egyptians—especially those among liberal and secular groups—who now believe the president lacks credibility.
“It is not just that he lies but that he is hesitant. He is not really clear about how he wants to lead the country,” Orla Shahba, a secular Egyptian, told Aljazeera. She had originally been one of the liberals who had voted for Morsi to become president.
However, Morsi’s move might have won over some segments of the population. The director of the judicial inspection department said on Aljazeera on Sunday that members of Egypt’s Judge Club of the State Council—who had initially decided to boycott the referendum following Morsi’s 22 November declaration, as it freed his decisions from judicial review and protected the Islamist-led Shura Council from dissolution—will return to the bench on Monday.
Some Egyptians have interpreted Morsi’s climb-down as a sign of compromise; other commentators, such as writer Bassem Sabry, disagree. On his blog he writes that the president has effectively got what he set out to achieve from his original declaration—clashes as a result of which have so far claimed eight lives and injured seven hundred. “In short, he has managed to let the constituent assembly finish its controversial draft constitution, despite walkouts from the assembly by all liberal members,” said Sabry.
Morsi’s latest proclamation has also failed to placate the opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front (NSF), which has called for more demonstrations in the lead up to the referendum scheduled for 15 December. “The National Salvation Front announces its total rejection of the referendum and will not legitimize this referendum which will definitely lead to more strife,” said Sameh Ashour, who spoke on behalf of the coalition. Speaking to the BBC, former Foreign Minister Amr Moussa said that the opposition was not aiming to topple the president but that it wanted a better constitution. Hossam Moanis of the NSF told AP that it is still deciding whether to boycott Saturday’s referendum or call for a ‘no’ vote.
In a new development today, the Egyptian military were granted authority by the government to arrest civilians. It is thought that this is meant to help maintain security and safeguard the constitutional vote this Saturday. A report by AFP states that president Morsi ordered the military to maintain security “up to the announcement of the results from the referendum.” Yet, given the military’s past performance, many fear that granting it this power will allow the country to fall back under military rule. Amnesty International has described the decision as “worrying.”
Yesterday, protesters marched on the presidential palace, which is now heavily guarded and surrounded by towering sand blocks. Mass rallies are planned for tomorrow. The Freedom and Justice party (the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm) has also announced that tomorrow Islamist parties, including the Brotherhood, will counter this with two-million-man marches.