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CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's president said Wednesday that the disputed constitution just approved in a referendum establishes a new republic and he called on the opposition to join a dialogue to heal rifts over the charter and shift the focus to repairing the economy.
In the first speech since official results a day earlier showing the constitution was approved, Mohammed Morsi said he acknowledges the "respectable" proportion that voted against the constitution drafted by his Islamist allies. But he offered no concrete gestures to an opposition that has so far rejected his offer of dialogue and vowed to fight the charter.
"As we set on a new phase moving from the first republic to the second republic, a republic that has this constitution as its strong base. ... I renew my pledge to respect the law and constitution," Morsi said, repeating his oath of office based on the new charter.
Morsi's comment signaled a break with the governing system in place in Egypt since 1952, when a military coup pushed out the Western-backed king, and Egypt was declared a republic.
The constitution is Egypt's first since the ouster of authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak in Feb. 2011. The opposition questioned its legitimacy, arguing it passed with a very low turnout of around 33 percent and without a national consensus. They say the charter restricts freedoms, ignores rights of minorities and women and enshrines Islamic rule.
Morsi countered that argument, saying it was the country's first constitution passed and drafted through a popularly approved process. He said the charter respects human dignity and enshrines values of moderation. It protects freedoms and ensures the right to work, to education and to health, he said.
"The Egyptian people passed the constitution with nearly a two-thirds majority," he said. "But I acknowledge that a respectable proportion chose to say 'no,' and it is their right." The constitution passed with nearly 64 percent voting "yes."
He said there is room in Egypt for an effective, national opposition.
Morsi, the first elected president after Mubarak, said a national dialogue aimed to set "a road map" for the future. He renewed his invitation to political parties to join a dialogue he launched before the referendum results came out.
The main opposition National Salavation front said it refuses to join the current dialogue as it stands, calling it "farcical and simply theater" and saying it would only enter a "real and effective" dialogue.
"The president is talking to himself," said Hussein Abdel-Ghani, a leading figure in the group told a press conference after Morsi's speech. He pointed out that most of the representatives in that dialogue are either Islamist parties or "cardboard" opposition, likening it to old attempts by Mubarak's regime to appear to be reaching out to the opposition.
He said the group would study Morsi's speech to determine whether it was a serious call.
"We won't deal with dialogues based on pretention," Abdel-Ghani said. He said the opposition won't take part in an attempt by Morsi simply to convince the United States — which has called for compromise and talks — that he is reaching out to his opponents without offering real substance.
Morsi defended decrees he issued in November granting himself sweeping powers, which sparked a wave of protests. He said the decrees, since revoked, were necessary to swiftly push through the constitution to a referendum to end instability and open the road for development. The opposition had urged him to postpone the vote.
Under the new constitution, the Islamist-dominated Shura Council, the traditionally toothless upper house, was granted temporary legislative powers and began its work on Wednesday. It will legislate until elections for a new lower house are held within two months.
He said he asked the current prime minister to do a limited reshuffle to his Cabinet, and vowed that new investment projects will launched in the coming days, including moves to facilitate investment.