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His implicit message to those who complain that the Muslim Brotherhood, from which he hails, is dominating government was that he could be trusted and that in the end, voters can remove them.

“God only knows I make no decision except for God, and for the interest of the nation,” Morsi said. “As you know, I am not a lover of authority or someone who is keen to monopolize power. Power is with the people.”

He 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. The opposition had urged him to postpone the vote.

The administrator of a Facebook page seen as a major mobilizer for the uprising that forced out Mubarak dismissed Morsi’s speech, saying, “His words don’t match his deeds.”

Abdel-Rahman Mansour, of the “We are All Khaled Said” page, said Morsi had violated earlier promises to respect processes and institutions and is now calling for a dialogue after rushing through a constitution that was highly disputed.

“You can’t talk about a second republic when it is based on a constitution that has no national consensus,” Mansour said. “He says he doesn’t want power but acts differently.”

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. Morsi has had legislative powers for months since a court dissolved the law-making lower house of parliament.

Morsi filled out the Shura Council this week by appointing 90 members to bring it to its full 270 members, adding a few non-Islamist members to the body recommended by the national dialogue. But the main liberal and secular opposition groups rejected the appointments as “political bribery.”

The parliamentary affairs minister, Mohammed Mahsoub, told Wednesday’s session that the government will prepare new legislation for the Shura Council to discuss, including a law to regulate the upcoming parliamentary elections, anti-corruption laws, and laws to organize Egypt’s efforts to recover money from corrupt Mubarak-era officials.

Mahsoub said such bills can be ready as early as next week, when the council convenes again for its regular working session.

Nasser Amin, the head of the Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and Legal Profession, said that now the conflict has moved from dueling street protests between the regime and opposition to “a new phase of legal disputes over legislation and control of state institutions.”

“This is the most critical phase,” he said, “and the battle won’t be very clear to regular people.”