President stands by new powers, chief of staff says

President Mohamed Morsy will not retreat on the controversial constitutional declaration he issued Thursday, according to his chief of staff, Mohamed Refaa al-Tahtawi.

In an interview with Al-Hayat 2 satellite channel late Tuesday, Tahtawi claimed that Morsy’s supporters outnumbered his opponents, the tens of thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square and around the country notwithstanding.

“No going back. I do not want to speak menacingly, but we are prepared for any escalations,” said Tahtawi. He added that the president’s office welcomes peaceful freedom of expression, but warned, “Any attempt to stir trouble outside of peaceful protesting will not be faced leniently.”

Morsy’s declaration prevents the judiciary from dissolving the Constituent Assembly and extends the constitution-writing body's mandate for two months beyond its original December deadline. A number of non-Islamist members have walked out of the assembly and denounced the constitution-writing process, and political parties have denounced the body’s domination by Islamists.

Tahtawi said that the president is trying to ensure the new constitution is drafted promptly and has asked political forces to let voters decide whether to approve the constitution through the referendum slated to take place after the drafting process is complete.

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