An Islamist-led assembly raced through approval of a new constitution for Egypt yesterday to end a crisis over Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s newly expanded powers, but opponents responded with another rally in Cairo against the Islamist leader.
“The people want to bring down the regime,” they chanted in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, where hundreds had gathered, echoing the chants that rang out in the same place less than two years ago and brought down former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.
Morsi 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 “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 TV while the constituent assembly was still voting on the draft, which the Islamists say reflects Egypt’s new freedoms.
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 Liberals, leftists, Christians, more moderate Muslims and others had withdrawn from the assembly, saying their voices were not being heard.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 rallies across the country yesterday after tens of thousands protested against Morsi’s decree on Tuesday.
Protesters said they would push for a “no” vote in a referendum, which could happen as early as the middle of this month. If approved, it would 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 Tahrir Square.
The plebiscite on the constitution is a gamble based on the Islamists’ belief they can mobilize voters again after winning all the elections since Mubarak was overthrown in February last year.