Middle East

Egypt's President Morsi hails constitution and urges dialogue

Mohammed Morsi signs the constitution into law, 25 Dec
Image caption Mr Morsi signs the constitution into law. He said it provided for freedom of thought and education

President Mohammed Morsi has congratulated Egyptians for endorsing a new constitution and urged all parties to join him in a national dialogue.

In a TV address to the nation, Mr Morsi said the economy was a priority and that changes to the cabinet would be made if necessary.

Some 63% backed the constitution in the controversial referendum.

But opponents say the document is too Islamist and have rejected the call for dialogue as "lacking seriousness".

A spokesman for the main opposition group said protests would be held in Tahrir Square in Cairo and elsewhere on 25 January, the second anniversary of the uprising against Hosni Mubarak's rule.

Economic priorities

In his first address to the nation since he signed the new constitution into law, Mr Morsi said that this was a historic day.

Egypt, he said, had a free constitution that had not been imposed by an occupier, a king or a president.

Mr Morsi said the passing of the constitution meant Egypt could now move to a new stage that should bring security and stability for the people.

He said the economy was the priority - and he was planning a package of incentives for investors.

"I will deploy all my efforts to boost the Egyptian economy, which faces enormous challenges but has also big opportunities for growth, and I will make all the changes necessary for this task," he said.

On Wednesday, the Egyptian pound hit an eight-year low against the dollar, amid fears the government will not be able to implement much-needed tax rises and spending cuts.

Credit agency Standard & Poor's cut Egypt's long-term rating to "B-" on Monday amid the uncertainty.

Mr Morsi said he accepted there were many people who were opposed to the constitution.

But he said he welcomed those who had said "no" as well as those who had said "yes", and that Egypt would not return to a time "when there was only one opinion".

However, he condemned those who had resorted to violence.

Mr Morsi said a national dialogue was now a necessity for the challenges ahead and he called on all political parties to participate.

He admitted mistakes had been made but insisted he would never make a decision except in the interests of the country.

Responding to the president's national address, a spokesman for the opposition National Salvation Front, Hussein Abdel Ghani, accused the government of trying to establish an "autocratic tyranny in the name of religion".

"This dialogue lacks the minimum limit of seriousness."

Turnout in the referendum was 32.9% of Egypt's 52 million voters.

The result was announced on Tuesday and parliamentary elections must now take place within two months.

Opponents of the constitution accuse the president, who belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood, of pushing through a text that favours Islamists and does not sufficiently protect the rights of women or Christians.

The BBC's Bethany Bell, in Cairo, says the opposition has insisted it will continue to fight against the charter in the election campaign and in parliament, and that Egypt's political crisis is far from over.