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Egyptian President Gives Up Extra Powers


In a startling move, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi appears to have reversed a controversial presidential decree that granted him extraordinary powers and launched weeks of protest. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Cairo. She's covering that story and joins us now. And, Soraya, tell us what's going on.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Well, in a very late-night press conference - it's very late at night here in Cairo - members of the committee that got together today - basically one real opposition member and the rest of them were Islamists, but they sort of claimed to be representing different parts of Egypt. And they held a very long meeting to discuss that, you know, what was going to happen.

And the decision that President Morsi reached is that he is giving up as of now his powers that he assumed last month. That basically removed him from judicial oversight that allowed for a draft constitution to be pushed through, that wasn't necessarily representative a reflective of the country and also protected the upper house of parliament from disillusion by the judges. And so what, in effect, though, what this has done is just move up what he already had planned to do by a week because he is asking for all the decisions he made to stand.

RAZ: Now, it appears that he seems to have yielded to those protesters who have been out on the streets for the past few days and weeks.

NELSON: Well, that's certainly what they're trying to - or what he's trying to portray and this committee with him today that made the announcements. But it's not really the case. I mean, in the end, the impact is that he has moved up by one week what he was planning to do anyway. He had always said he was going to - well, not always - but more recently had said he was going to give up the constitutional decrees, which gave him this extraordinary power by the time the referendum was over.

And so now, he's basically moved it up for a week. But what he's trying to get the opposition to agree to is for this draft constitution to be approved or to be voted on by the Egyptian public and to basically hold all the decisions he's made in the past few weeks, you know, harmless without challenging them in court.

RAZ: Is there a sense that this could quell the demonstrations and the violence?

NELSON: It doesn't seem likely, but we are still waiting to hear from the National Salvation Front and other key opposition leaders in groups. What's important to note is that this came - this announcement came out at about midnight local time here in Cairo. And, you know, obviously, people were not expecting it. And so it's taking some time for people to digest what's been said to see whether there, in fact, has been significant change.

RAZ: That's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reporting from Cairo. Soraya, thanks.

NELSON: You're welcome, Guy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.