Morsi tries to calm rising anger over decree

President says most Egyptians agree with his move as the Islamist constitutional assembly discusses its final draft before vote, then referendum.

CAIRO // Egypt's president, Mohammed Morsi, was last night set to try to calm increasing unrest in a televised address to a nation deeply divided by a decree giving him wide-ranging powers.
After a week of demonstrations by an opposition that has long been suspicious of the Islamist president and his allies, he has thus far refused to roll back any measures from last week's decree, which put his decisions above judicial oversight.
The divisions were exacerbated yesterday by an attempt to approve a new constitution that some have a called a rushed process designed to fend off legal challenges.
Mr Morsi told Time magazine that his actions had the overwhelming support of the Egyptian people.
"They are raising their voices when they are opposing the president, and when they are opposing what's going on. And this is very important," he said of the hundreds of thousands of people in Tahrir Square on Tuesday nght.
But Mr Morsi said between 80 and 90 per cent of people in the country supported his decree.
The televised speech was reportedly pre-recorded as the constitutional assembly discussed article by article a final draft of a constitution that has been almost six months in the writing, and is now set to be approved by the assembly and put to a referendum.
If the document passes the popular vote, as seems likely, it would nullify Mr Morsi's decree and open the way for parliamentary elections in two months - although the president would stay in place.
A new constitution could also defuse some of the tension that has arisen over the president's decree.
Some analysts and opponents have suggested the president hurried through the constitutional process to avoid a decision by a judicial body, set for Sunday, which may have ruled the assembly was unconstitutional, forcing the process to start all over again.
But Yasser El Shimy of the International Crisis Group think tank said the mandate of the assembly had always been six months from June.
Mr El Shimy said that "listening to the articles being read out" in a televised meeting of the assembly yesterday "reveals how uncontroversial the articles are".
The assembly was always dominated by Islamists, whose role became increasingly prominent after most of the non-Islamist members resigned from it this year, complaining it was unrepresentative.
But Mr El Shimly said that most of the articles would probably have been passed even if the liberals had remained in the assembly.
Some hardline Islamists had called for a stricter emphasis on Islamic law, but they did not get their way and the final version of the relevant clause is the same as the 1971 version on which the new tet is based.
Some of the articles, released by official media yesterday, are still controversial.
Article 10 gives a role to the state and society in protecting the ethical values and "true nature" of the Egyptian family, a broadly worded clause that some fear could result in enforcement of conservative social values.
And Heba Morayef of Human Rights Watch raised concerns on Twitter about Article 44, which prohibits insults to the Prophet Mohammed, saying that it contradicted an article on freedom of speech elsewhere in the document.
Another sensitive article extended religious freedom only to Christians, Muslims and Jews, was not passed immediately amid concerns that Egypt's Baha'i minority could suffer under such a ruling.
A real weakness of the document, said Zaid Al Ali, a constitutional expert with the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, was that it did not change the framework of any of the issues that motivated Egyptians to rise up early last year and overthrow president Hosni Mubarak: corruption and the failure of the state to provide services.
For example, Mr Al Ali said, there had been no changes to made an auditing body independent, and the details of the military's expenditure will remain a secret.
"Instead, the constitutional process is dominated by women and the family, which is not why people went out to demonstrate," he said.
A small number of protesters remained in tents in Tahrir Square in Cairo yesterday, and there were small clashes between demonstrators and police nearby.
Further opposition demonstrations were anticipated today and large numbers of Mr Morsi's supporters are expected to take to the streets tomorrow, although state television announced last night the rally would not be in Tahrir Square, reducing the chance of confrontation.