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EGYPT

Decree for absolute power is temporary, Mohammed Mursi says

Mursi calls for more dialogue as key minister says end to the crisis is 'imminent'

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 November, 2012, 5:24am

Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi said the sweeping new powers he has assumed are temporary and called for dialogue as he prepared to meet with senior judges yesterday in a bid to defuse a crisis that sparked strikes and deadly protests.

The justice minister said that a resolution was "imminent" to the political crisis and said he believed Mursi would agree with the country's highest judicial authority on its proposal to limit the scope of the new powers.

Ahmed Mekki spoke to reporters shortly before Mursi was due to meet members of the Supreme Judiciary Council to discuss the decrees the Islamist president announced last week that put him above any kind of oversight, including that of the courts. The judiciary council is in charge of the courts.

Mekki has been mediating between the judiciary and the presidency to try to defuse the crisis, although he did not say on what he based his prediction for its impending resolution.

Earlier Mursi issued a statement in which he declared his "firm commitment to engage all political forces in the inclusive democratic dialogue to reach a common ground".

The statement also stressed the temporary nature of measures "which are not meant to concentrate powers, but on the contrary devolve it [to a] democratically elected parliament".

Mursi's office said he would meet Egypt's highest judicial authority, the Supreme Judicial Council, and the council hinted at compromise.

Mursi's decree should apply only to "sovereign matters", it said, suggesting it did not reject the declaration outright, and called on judges and prosecutors, some of whom began a strike on Sunday, to return to work.

His talks with judges come a day after a member of his party was killed in clashes outside its offices in the Nile Delta town of Damanhour.

A security source had put the number of wounded at more than 500, but later clarified that this was the number injured since street battles erupted last week with police in Tahrir before the decree was announced.

The party's offices have also been attacked in other cities.

The Muslim Brotherhood has called for a "million man" demonstration today in Giza district near Cairo University, to coincide with a huge demonstration planned by Mursi opponents for Tahrir Square.

His political opponents have accused him of behaving like a new dictator and the West has voiced its concern.

The protesters, some camped in Cairo's Tahrir Square, have said only retracting his decree will satisfy them, a sign of the deep rift between Islamists and their opponents that is destabilising Egypt two years after Hosni Mubarak was ousted.

"There is no use amending the decree," said Tarek Ahmed, 26, a protester who stayed the night in Tahrir. "It must be scrapped."

One politician said the scale of the crisis could push opponents towards a deal to avoid further escalation. "I am very cautiously optimistic because the consequences are quite serious, the most serious they have been since the revolution," said Mona Makram Ebeid, former member of parliament and prominent figure in Egyptian politics.

"This is the most critical and most dramatic moment since the revolution," she said. "He has succeeded in uniting the opposition camp who for the time being seem to be [in] unison."

Mursi's office said he wanted dialogue to find "common ground" over what should go into the constitution.

But talks have been rejected by members of a National Salvation Front, a new opposition coalition that brings together liberal, leftist and other politicians and parties, who until Mursi's decree had been a fractious bunch struggling to unite.

"There is no room for dialogue when a dictator imposes the most oppressive, abhorrent measures and then says 'let us split the difference'," prominent opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei said.

The military has stayed out of the crisis after leading Egypt through a messy 16-month transition to a presidential election in June. Analysts say Mursi neutralised the army when he sacked top generals in August, appointing a new generation who now owe their advancement to the Islamist president.

Agence France-Presse, The Guardian, Reuters

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