New Egypt charter guarantees equality: Morsi

New Egypt charter guarantees equality: Morsi

CAIRO - Agence France-Presse
New Egypt charter guarantees equality: Morsi

In this image made from Egyptian State Television, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi speaks at the Shura Council, the country's upper house of parliament, in Cairo, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012. AP Photo/Egyptian State TV

Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi on Saturday said a disputed new constitution guaranteed equality for all Egyptians, and downplayed the country's economic woes in an address before a newly empowered senate, AFP has reported.

Egyptians voted in a December referendum in favour of the charter, which was rushed through by an Islamist-dominated council amid political turmoil and became the focus of the country's worst crisis since Morsi's election in June.

The senate has been invested with legislative powers under the new charter until a parliament is elected in two months' time.

"All are equal before the law, and in this constitution," he said of the charter, adding that there would be "freedom for all people, with no exceptions." The constitution has been fiercely criticised by human rights activists and the secular-leaning opposition for failing to guarantee women's rights and potentially curtailing freedom of expression and freedom of worship.

"General indicators for the social and economic situation have shown some noticeable progress," Morsi said of the economy, despite concerns over a downturn.

A declining Egyptian pound and a $4.8 billion IMF loan stalled after weeks of often violent protests have put the country on edge, two years after the economy nosedived with an uprising that overthrew president Hosni Mubarak.

In a televised speech on Wednesday, Morsi welcomed the approval of an Islamist-backed charter in a referendum, despite fierce opposition protests, and pledged to turn his attention to the economy.

He also promised to reshuffle his cabinet. Two ministers, including an Islamist ally of Morsi, have so far resigned in disagreement with government policy.

Mass rallies that began in November after Morsi adopted extensive powers -- later repealed -- have now subsided, but the opposition this week called for further protests against the new constitution.

The opposition, led by the National Salvation Front coalition, sees the charter as a possible tool to introduce strict Islamic sharia law by weakening human rights generally, women's rights and the independence of the judiciary.

It also stressed that just one in three of Egypt's 52 million voters actually cast a ballot in the two-stage referendum on December 15 and 22.

The likelihood of prolonged "elevated" political conflict despite the adoption of the constitution prompted the ratings agency Standard and Poor's this week to knock Egypt's long-term credit rating down a peg to "B-." The National Salvation Front is also now looking ahead and preparing for the upcoming parliamentary elections, after which the senate will be dissolved ahead of another round of elections.

Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood dominated the last parliament which was elected in late 2011 but later annulled by a top court stacked with his opponents.