Egypt’s embattled government has shown signs of bowing to massive pressure from an energised secular opposition which wants a controversial decree that gives President Mohamed Morsy expanded powers scrapped and defer a referendum on a draft constitution.
On Friday, Justice Minister Ahmed Mekki said the President could postpone the constitutional vote slated for December 15, if the opposition accepted a dialogue without preconditions.
It was unclear whether the Minster’s gesture would be enough to entice the opposition, buoyed by the protests that have rocked Egypt over the last two weeks.
From Tahrir Square, the icon of the Egyptian uprising, the protests have now shifted to outside the President’s residence in Cairo’s upscale Heliopolis district.
The anti-Morsy camp wants the President to withdraw his controversial decree that allows him to put a draft constitution — a document that has not emerged out of political consensus — beyond the reach of the judiciary. It also opposes a national vote on the draft constitution.
Critics say the Islamists, who dominated the 100-member Constituent Assembly, disregarded the rights of women, workers and Christians, when they drafted the national charter.
Well aware of the depth of the protests, which seemed to impart rigidity to the opposition’s stand, the government signalled that it was ready to concede much more.
Late on Friday, Egypt’s Supreme Election Commission announced that it was postponing the early voting by Egyptian expatriates that was scheduled on Saturday to December 12.
In tandem, Minister of State for Legal Affairs Mohamed Mahsoub told Al-Jazeera television that a consensus had been reached on the controversial presidential decree. He pointed out that all parties had agreed on the annulment of Article Six of the President’s decree, which have given Mr. Morsy blanket powers. Both sides also agreed on amending Article Two of the presidential order, which shielded Mr. Morsy from judicial intervention.
Mr. Mahsoub disclosed that once a dialogue with the opposition commenced — which Mr. Morsy avidly proposed over national television on Thursday night — its prospects would depend on the stance the opposition adopted on the draft constitution.
“If they [the secularists] consider the constitution as valid, the referendum could be postponed and the constitution may consequently return to the Constituent Assembly,” said Mr. Mahsoub. “If they consider the constitution invalid, then we will have two options: either to re-form the Constituent Assembly through consensus or elections, or merge the amendments of last year’s March declaration with the 1971 constitution”.
As Egypt’s deepening crisis threatened to tear apart the country’s social fabric, the military has asserted itself, by urging a dialogue between the antagonistic camps.
A statement by the military on Saturday warned that it will intervene to stop Egypt going into “a dark tunnel”. A spokesman for the military read out the terse statement over television.
“The armed forces... realise their responsibility to preserve the higher interests of the country and to secure and protect vital targets, public institutions and the interests of innocent citizens,” it said. “The armed forces affirm that dialogue is the best and only way to reach consensus,” it added.
“The opposite of that will bring us to a dark tunnel that will result in catastrophe and that is something we will not allow.”