Egypt prez retracts decree, protesters not impressed

Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi scrapped a decree that gave him extra powers and ignited violent protests, but irate opponents said on Sunday he had deepened the conflict by pressing on with a vote on a constitution shaped by Islamists.

President Mohamed Morsi and his Islamist partisans have insisted the referendum 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.

The retraction of Morsi’s November 22 decree, announced around midnight after a “national dialogue” boycotted by almost all the president’s opponents, has failed to calm a war of words.

Prime Minister Hisham Kandil, a technocrat with Islamist leanings, said the referendum was the best test of opinion.

“The people are the makers of the future as long as they have the freedom to resort to the ballot box in a democratic, free and fair vote,” he said in a cabinet statement.

But opposition factions, uncertain of their ability to vote down the constitution against the Islamists’ organisational muscle, want the document redrafted before any vote.

Ahmed Said, a liberal leader of the main opposition National Salvation Front, said Morsi'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. The Front has promised a formal response later on Sunday.

Egypt tipped into turmoil after Morsi grabbed powers to stop any court action to hinder the transition. An assembly led by Morsi’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.

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