Mona El-Tahawy explains why President Mohammed Morsi's recent decree is very insulting to many Egyptians who demonstrated against Former President Hosni Mubarak's regime.
UPDATED AT 3:55 p.m. ET: CAIRO, Egypt -- After Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi received a final draft of the constitution from the Islamist-dominated assembly, he called for a Dec. 15 referendum and urged a national dialogue.
This latest move indicates that the president aims to appease demonstrators who accused him last week of attempting to assume Pharoah-like status after he expanded his presidential powers.
The protests come from both sides -- on Saturday, at least 200,000 Islamists demonstrated in Cairo in support of Morsi.
"The people want the implementation of God's law," chanted flag-waving demonstrators, many of them bused in from the countryside, who choked streets leading to Cairo University, where Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood had called the protest.
Morsi set the date for a referendum on the constitution after it was hastily approved after a 19-hour session.
Morsi plunged Egypt into a crisis last week when he gave himself extensive powers and put his decisions beyond judicial challenge, saying this was a temporary measure to speed Egypt's democratic transition until the new constitution is in place.
His assertion of authority in a decree issued on November 22, a day after he won world praise for brokering a Gaza truce between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist Hamas movement, dismayed his opponents and widened divisions among Egypt's 83 million people.
Morsi, once a Muslim Brotherhood figure, has put his liberal, leftist, Christian and other opponents in a bind. If they boycott the referendum, the constitution would pass anyway.
If they secured a "no" vote to defeat the draft, the president could retain the powers he has unilaterally assumed.
As protesters clashes, President Mohammed Morsi of Egypt announced a referendum on a proposed constitution. NBC's Jim Maceda reports.
And Egypt's quest to replace the basic law that underpinned Mubarak's 30 years of army-backed one-man rule would also return to square one, creating more uncertainty in a nation in dire economic straits and seeking a $4.8 billion loan from the IMF.
Morsi's well-organized Muslim Brotherhood and its ultra-orthodox Salafi allies, however, are convinced they can win the referendum by mobilizing their own supporters and the millions of Egyptians weary of political turmoil and disruption.
"There is no place for dictatorship," the president said on Thursday while the constituent assembly was still voting on a constitution which Islamists say enshrines Egypt's new freedoms.
Human rights groups have voiced misgivings, especially about articles related to women's rights and freedom of speech.
The text limits the president to two four-year terms, requires him to secure parliamentary approval for his choice of prime minister, and introduces a degree of civilian oversight over the military - though not enough for critics.
The draft constitution also contains vague, Islamist-flavored language that its opponents say could be used to whittle away human rights and stifle criticism.
For example, it forbids blasphemy and "insults to any person", does not explicitly uphold women's rights and demands respect for "religion, traditions and family values."
The draft injects new Islamic references into Egypt's system of government but retains the previous constitution's reference to "the principles of sharia" as the main source of legislation.
"We fundamentally reject the referendum and constituent assembly because the assembly does not represent all sections of society," said Sayed el-Erian, 43, a protester in Tahrir and member of a party set up by opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei.
Several independent newspapers said they would not publish on Tuesday in protest. One of the papers also said three private satellite channels would halt broadcasts on Wednesday.
Egypt cannot hold a new parliamentary election until a new constitution is passed. The country has been without an elected legislature since the Supreme Constitutional Court ordered the dissolution of the Islamist-dominated lower house in June.
The court is due to meet on Sunday to discuss the legality of parliament's upper house.
Meanwhile, at the protests, two people have been killed and hundreds wounded in protests by disparate opposition forces drawn together and re-energized by a decree they see as a dictatorial power grab.
Tens of thousands of Egyptians had protested against Morsi on Friday. "The people want to bring down the regime," they chanted in Cairo's Tahrir Square, echoing the trademark slogan of the revolts against Hosni Mubarak and Arab leaders elsewhere.
In the protests supporting Morsi, Mohamed Noshi, 23, a pharmacist from Mansoura, north of Cairo, said he had joined the rally in Cairo to support the president's decree. "Those in Tahrir don't represent everyone. Most people support Morsi and aren't against the decree," he said.
Mohamed Ibrahim, a hardline Salafi Islamist scholar and a member of the constituent assembly, said secular-minded Egyptians had been in a losing battle from the start.
"They will be sure of complete popular defeat today in a mass Egyptian protest that says 'no to the conspiratorial minority, no to destructive directions and yes for stability and sharia (Islamic law)'," he told Reuters.
"We want stability. Every time, the constitutional court tears down institutions we elect," said Yasser Taha, a 30-year-old demonstrator at the Islamist rally in Cairo.
More world stories from NBC News:
- PhotoBlog: Dueling demonstrations in Cairo
- Video: US-Cuban spy swap in the works?
- Egyptians fear long Muslim Brotherhood rule, warn Morsi is no friend of US
- Bread and expired milk: School lunch scandal sparks outrage in China
- Fast cars go cheap as bubble bursts in 'China's Dubai'