The controversial constitutional declaration "meets the requirements of the current period" and will expire as soon as a new constitution is approved through a popular referendum, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi said on Thursday, according to a report in the Egypt Independent.
The decree made all of Morsi’s decisions immune from judicial oversight until the new constitution is ratified and a new parliament is elected. Since Morsi issued the declaration last Thursday, it has sparked mass protests by opposition forces and a strike by judges across the nation.
Morsi had "sensed a danger to the nation" and had to conduct "a very careful surgery" to address the situation, the president told state TV in an interview that aired on Thursday night.
If the final constitutional draft is rejected by voters in the referendum, then a new Constituent Assembly would be formed to write a new draft, said the president.
He added that the constitutional declaration has popular support and political forces only oppose certain parts of the decree, rather than the entire document. Only his so-called "sovereign" decisions have judicial immunity, he claimed, such as decisions like calling for a constitutional referendum.
Judges should not be parties to political disputes, Morsi continued, although he expressed his appreciation for the judicial authorities. "Judges give rulings based on the constitution and the law. It is not their job to determine the constitutionality of a legislation," he asserted, adding that he had only assumed legislative powers due to the absence of an elected Parliament.
Morsi said he removed former Prosecutor General Abdel Meguid Mahmoud in response to revolutionary demands, and the action could not have been delayed any longer.
Recent protests against the constitutional declaration are a "healthy phenomenon," Morsi opined, then went on to urge protesters to demonstrate peacefully and abstain from assaulting security forces or facilities.
Meanwhile on Thursday, an Egyptian panel was rushing through approval of a new constitution and by early evening, the constituent assembly had approved almost half of the 234 articles, including a unanimous decision to retain the principles of Islamic law as the main source of legislation.
"We want a constitution we agree on," said assembly chief Hossam al-Gheriani, according to AFP, adding that the panel had been "awaiting" boycotting members even as it went to the vote.
The constitution will replace the one suspended after president Hosni Mubarak's overthrow in early 2011.
Once it has been approved by the panel, it will be sent to Morsi, who must call a referendum on it, with one advisor saying that might happen within two weeks.
Christians have objected to an article, yet to be approved, that seeks to narrow the meaning of "the principles of Islamic law" to the tenets of Sunni Muslim jurisprudence, reported AFP.
Heba Morayef, Human Rights Watch Egypt directors, said some of the draft articles on freedom of expression and religion resemble a "penal code."
Particularly worrisome was the limitation of religious freedom to followers of Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism), Morayef said, which would exclude minorities such as Bahais that have been persecuted in Egypt.
"They have added language that is problematic to freedom of expression. You cannot 'insult a human,' which is very broad. It can be used to censor criticism of the president," she told AFP.
The new constitution also states that an Egyptian president will be limited to two terms in office. It states that "the President of the Republic must be elected for four years, starting the day after the end of the term of his predecessor. He can be elected only once more."