Egypt’s President Mohamed Mursi on Saturday said a controversial new constitution guaranteed equal rights to all Egyptians and has ended a period of turmoil that had lasted longer than expected , in an address before a newly empowered senate.
“All are equal before the law, and in this constitution,” he said of the charter drawn up by an Islamist-dominated council and approved in a referendum, adding that there would be “freedom for all people, with no exceptions.”
In his speech, Mursi said that the Shura council is now the only legislative authority. The step comes after the president passed all legislative powers to the council last week, when the official results of a divisive constitution referendum came out and a new charter was approved.
Mursi then appointed 90 new council members to the upper house of parliament according to his constitutional prerogatives. The members included liberals and Christians.
Accordingly, the country's upper house will have legislative powers until a new lower house is elected in a vote likely to take place early in 2013.
Opposition faces probe
As Mursi hopes that the quick adoption of the constitution and holding elections to a permanent new parliament soon will help end the long period of turmoil, divisions in the country remain persistent.
Egypt’s opposition accused President Mursi’s Islamist allies of trying to muzzle dissent on Friday after prosecutors decided to investigate whether prominent government critics were guilty of sedition.
The probe, which comes a month after Mursi replaced the chief prosecutor, further sours the political climate as the leader and his opponents face off over the new constitution.
Critics of the new charter say it uses vague language, fails to enshrine the rights of women and minorities and does little to champion the rights of Egyptians who rose up last year to overthrow army-backed strongman Hosni Mubarak.
Supporters say it protects personal rights that were often trampled upon during the Mubarak era and a subsequent spell of army rule.
The constitution text won about 64 percent approval in a two-stage referendum but Mursi’s opponents vowed to continue protests and rejected his calls for a national dialogue.
Prosecutors ordered the inquiry into three of the president’s most prominent opponents on Thursday - former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei and leftist Hamdeen Sabahy.
Moussa and Sabahy both challenged Mursi for the presidency in a June election which followed the 2011 uprising.
The prosecutor’s office said the three had been accused of inciting supporters to rise up and overthrow Mursi, the country’s first fairly elected leader.
Mursi’s critics saw an attempt to intimidate them into silence and vowed to continue challenging his rule.
“I believe this is orchestrated by the Brotherhood leadership,” Hussein Abdel Ghani, a spokesman for the country’s main opposition umbrella group, told Reuters. “The Mubarak regime used to order the same tactics.”
“But we are going to use our full rights, our civil tactics, to demonstrate our opposition to this regime,” he said.
The charged atmosphere makes it harder for Mursi to bolster his authority and muster a consensus for unpopular austerity measures vital to preventing a weak economy from collapsing.