In an hour-long pre-recorded interview with state television that aired Thursday, Morsi rejected suggestions that the nation was devolving toward violence. He said the measures he’d announced last week were “temporary” and denied that he had become a dictator.
“No elected president like myself can take a decision to oppress," he said.
Rather, he said, it was the judiciary that was improperly injecting itself into the writing of the constitution.
“We’re not used to democracy,” Morsi said.
At the root of the dispute is the possibility the constitutional court will declare that the constitutional assembly is illegal because it was appointed by a Parliament that the court ordered dissolved earlier this year.
Morsi’s opponents have called another rally for Friday in Tahrir Square, while the Muslim Brotherhood, the organization through which Morsi gained prominence before he became president, has called for protests at Cairo University on Saturday.
By then, the constitutional assembly should have approved its proposed constitution. On Thursday, Hussam al Gheriany, the speaker of the constitutional assembly, managed to get through half of proposed 234 articles in seven hours before recessing until Friday. One member, Mohyi el Deen, repeatedly pleaded for more time to discuss the articles but was told to sit down. Several members asked to discuss their views on the articles.
“We don’t have time” Gheriany repeatedly replied.
Questions already had been raised about the document’s legitimacy. Fifty-three of the assembly’s original 100 members have dropped out. Most of those were political liberals, secularists and Christians who protested that the constitutional assembly was dominated by Islamists. Thursday’s meeting began with the assembly replacing 38 of the withdrawn members with new members, most of whom were Islamists. That brought total membership to 85, but no explanation was offered for that number.
The document itself is likely to prove controversial. It gives women fewer rights than earlier versions and expands legislative power. It offers Egyptians a litany of freedoms and protections but is peppered with caveats, with 33 articles containing the limitation “according to the law,” a loophole that would allow Parliament or the courts to maneuver around such protections.
The proposed constitution also protects the military from government oversight of defense policy and the military budget. That, said Ashraf el Sherif, a political science lecturer at American University in Cairo, suggests that Morsi has won military loyalty by protecting its key interests.
“The military got what it wanted. Its massive economic empire is intact,” Sherif said. “They will not get involved. They have been co-opted.”
McClatchy special correspondent Amina Ismail in Cairo contributed to this report.