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One politician said the scale of the crisis could push opponents towards a deal to avoid a further escalation. Mursi’s opponents have called for a big demonstration on Tuesday.
“I am very cautiously optimistic because the consequences are quite, 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 unison.”
Mursi’s office repeated assurances that the steps would be temporary, and said he wanted dialogue with political groups to find “common ground” over what should go into the constitution.
Talks with Mursi 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.
MILITARY STAYING OUT
“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 and Mohamed ElBaradei said on Saturday. He has said he expected to act as the Front’s coordinator.
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.
Though the military still wields influence through business interests and a security role, it is out of frontline politics.
Images of protesters clashing with police and tear gas wafting through Tahrir Square have been unsettling reminder of the uprising that toppled Mubarak in February 2011 and violence that flared under army rule, scaring investors and tourists.
Egypt had hoped to stop the economic rot by signing an initial deal last week for a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. As well as tumbling share prices, yields at a Sunday treasury bill auction rose, putting even more pressure on the government that faces a crushing budget deficit.
“We are back to square one, politically, socially,” said Mohamed Radwan of Pharos Securities, an Egyptian brokerage firm.
Issued just a day after Mursi received glowing tributes from Washington for his work brokering a deal to end eight days of violence between Israel and Hamas, the decree drew warnings from the West to uphold democracy. Washington has leverage because of billions of dollars it sends in annual military aid.
The decree protects the assembly writing the constitution from dissolution before completing its work, and it now has a deadline of February. The constitutional court, which has declared the Islamist-dominated lower house of parliament void, was expected to rule on the validity of the assembly on Dec. 2.
Many of Mursi’s political opponents share the view that Egypt’s judiciary needs reform, though they disagree with his methods. Mursi’s new powers allowed him to sack the prosecutor general who took his job during the Mubarak era and is unpopular among reformists of all stripes.