Egyptian President Mohammad Mursi has surprised his opponents by annulling his own decree through which he gave himself hugely expanded powers. Only a few days ago was he insisting that these powers were essential to stop the Hosni Mubarak-era judiciary hijacking the new constitution. Yet, over the weekend, he made an abrupt U-turn and denied his own decree.
However, Mursi remains committed to a referendum on Saturday on the controversial and rushed draft constitution that the Constitutional Assembly flung together over the past weeks. The opposition is furious that something as serious and fundamental as the new constitution was not seen too important to be part of the day-to-day party battle, and failed to have a more inclusive approach from the very start. All the liberal and Christian delegates to the Constitutional Assembly resigned over the religiously dominated thinking the majority were imposing on the process and they were replaced by more religious figures.
The government has admitted that if the draft constitution was rejected by a popular vote, then elections would be held for a new constituent assembly. However, it clearly expects the Muslim Brotherhood’s majority in the country to rescue their damaged and narrow constitution. Mursi has made a serious mistake in trying to rush through something as important as a new constitution and his U-turn will not legitimise it. He needs to start again.