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Sunday's Egypt, Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Morsi Gives Back His Expanded Powers
2047 GMT: Libya. The trial of Al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi, the last Prime Minister in the Qaddafi regime, opened today, with charges including "abusing public funds" and "committing acts aiming to unjustly kill people".
Al-Mahmoudi sat in a caged section of the courtroom and spoke only once during the one-hour hearing, saying "yes" when asked to confirm his presence.
The next hearing was set for 14 January.
1647 GMT: Egypt. The Presidency has filed a complaint with the Prosecutor General against newspaper editor and television presenter Khaled Salah and reporter Ola El-Shafie, accusing them of insulting President Mohamed Morsi.
An article in Youm Al-Sabea's arts section by El-Shafie criticised the President and the Muslim Brotherhood's Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie and his deputy Khairat El-Shater.
Meanwhile, Morsi's Chief of Staff Muhammad Rifaa al-Tahtawi has given CNN his version of the political situation:
You have the majority of the poor people, the simple, definitely for the president and for the constitution. You have a majority among the elite who are not for this constitution. Businessmen, media people. They are definitely a small minority, but powerful minority.
A military source emphasised the temporary nature, "The latest law giving the armed forces the right to arrest anyone involved in illegal actions such as burning buildings or damaging public sites is to ensure security during the referendum [on the draft Constitution on 15 December] only."
Presidential spokesman Yasser Ali said the committee overseeing the vote had requested the army's assistance, "The armed forces will work within a legal framework to secure the referendum and will return (to barracks) as soon as the referendum is over."
Galal Morra said the party is busy preparing for a campaign to persuade voters to vote Yes in the 15 December referendum on the draft Constitution.
1405 GMT: Egypt. International media have noted the development --- anticipated in EA's Live Coverage on Saturday --- that President Morsi has issued an order authorising the military to arrest civilians.
The order is purportedly for the military to support and coordinate with police to protect "vital institutions" until the result of the 15 December referendum on the Constitution is known. Amnesty International's Mohamed Lotfy warns, however:
You have to read this in conjunction with new laws announced on 21 November on the "Protection of Revolution". These laws basically allow the public prosecutor to put people in preventative detention for up to six months for offences under the penal code, mainly media offences and strikes, as well as protests and what the penal code calls "thuggery", which is quite a vague concept....
The law also says the military have to hand the detainees to the ordinary judiciary for public prosecution but it says that is not withstanding the jurisidiction of the military judiciary. So the military prosecutor would be entitled to say: "This is within our jurisidiction".
1245 GMT: Bahrain. Fellow activist Said Yousif reports that Zainab Alkhawaja, arrested last night in a hospital after she tried to see a teenager shot by security forces, has been given a seven-day detention order:
1125 GMT: Egypt. Former Presidential candidate Abul Fotouh, leader of the Strong Egypt party, has broken with the opposition National Salvation Front, and called for participation --- with a "No" vote --- in the 15 December referendum on the draft Constitution.
The Social Democrats, led by Mohamed Abou el-Ghar, have also recommended participation and a No vote.
Posner also urged Bahrain’s leadership to drop charges against activists involved in “non-violent political expression” and expressed concern about recent measures, such as the revocation of citizenship of 31 activists.
Posner's remarks strike a somewhat different tone from Deputy Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, who said at an international security conference in Bahrain on Saturday:
Bahrain is a valued strategic partner and a longtime friend. Under the leadership of King Hamad, Bahrain has begun to implement the recommendations of the independent commission of inquiry. There is still a long road ahead, and I know it is not easy. But as Crown Prince Salman stressed last night, it is crucial to move decisively down that path, without violence from any quarter. Long-term stability, and enduring security, depend upon the full participation of all citizens in political and economic life; the belief of all citizens that their peacefully-expressed views are heard and respected; the conviction of all citizens that they share a stake in their country’s future.
0845 GMT: Egypt. In an early-morning statement on his Facebook page, President Morsi has withdrawn his Sunday orders for increased taxes on 18 items and services. He called instead for a "social dialogue" on the measures before implementation.
The statement read, “[The President] does not accept that the Egyptian citizen carries any extra burdens without consent. His Excellency has decided to halt the [tax raising] decisions until the degree of public acceptance is made clear."
The tax rises included 10% on stock market profits, 18% on cell phone bills, 15% on fertilizer, 10% on rent, 200% on beer, and 150% on liquor. New taxes were also imposed on steel, cement, tobacco, soft drinks, air-conditioned transportation, and diesel fuel.
The measures were part of the implementation of Egypt's agreement with the International Monetary Fund for a $4.8 billion loan, reducing the public deficit. Morsi had already reduced subsidies on butane gas and electricity.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, of which Morsi was a senior member, called Sunday for the new taxes to be put on hold: “[The party] calls on the head of the government [Prime Minister Hisham Qandil] to halt these decisions until they are submitted to the People’s Assembly after its formation."
0835 GMT: Bahrain. Leading activist Zainab Alkhawaja, detained last night at the Salmaniya Medical Complex after she tried to see a teenager shot by security forces, has been sentenced to one month in prison and a 100 BD ($265) fine on a separate charge.
0735 GMT: Yemen. Major-General Ali al-Ahmadi, president of Yemen's National Security Board, has accused Iran of training and funding Houthi insurgents in the north of the country, near the border with Saudi Arabia:
Iran seized a chance to broaden the conflict to play a certain role. We have no hostility to Iran; all we ask is that they don't interfere.
We have processed evidence of their presence and we have arrested a number of people and have sufficient evidence they are interfering.
Al-Ahmadi said Al Qa'eda appeared not to number more than 700-800 in the country, including a few hundred Saudis. He warned, however, that the group had sleeper cells that had not been tracked down.
There are reports of numerous detentions and the burning of a bus. Witnesses said security forces used batons and tear gas.
"The people want the fall of the regime," protesters shouted. "Killing students is the killing of the nation."
0625 GMT: Egypt. The opposition National Salvation Front repeated last night that President Morsi's revocation of his expanded powers was not enough to halt their challenge. The bloc, formed soon after Morsi's controversial decree was issued on 22 November, declared that the 15 December referendum on the draft Constitution must be cancelled
Front spokesman Sameh Ashour said Morsi was "gambling by driving the country toward more violent clashes that are dangerous for its national security". He continued, "We do not recognise the draft constitution because it does not represent the Egyptian people."
Both the opposition and Morsi's supporters, including the Muslim Brotherhood, called for rallies on Tuesday.
On Sunday, anti-Morsi demonstrations tried to resume their protest at the gates of the Presidential Palace, but they were halted by a new wall and ranks of Republican Guards.