Thousands of Egyptians took to the streets after midday prayers yesterday in rival rallies and marches across Cairo, as the standoff deepened over what opponents call the Islamist president’s power grab, raising the specter of more violence.
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi responded to bloody clashes outside his palace with a fiery speech denouncing his opponents, deepening the crisis. The opposition turned down his appeal for talks, saying the president had not fulfilled their conditions for beginning negotiations.
Protesters are demanding that Morsi rescind decrees that give him almost absolute power and push an Islamist-friendly constitution to a referendum next Saturday. The decrees sparked a crisis that has boiled for more than two weeks. Demonstrations have reached the size and intensity of those that brought down former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak early last year.
In a televised address late on Thursday, an angry Morsi refused to call off the vote on the disputed constitution. He accused some in the opposition of serving remnants of Mubarak’s regime and vowed he would never tolerate anyone working for the overthrow of his government. He also invited the opposition to a dialogue starting today at his palace, but he gave no sign that he might offer any meaningful concessions. Morsi’s opponents replied they would not talk until Morsi cancels his decrees.
Since the crisis erupted, the opposition has tried to forge a united front. The squabbling groups created a National Salvation Front to bring them together, naming Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, the country’s top reform campaigner, as its leader.
Speaking on the new umbrella group’s behalf, ElBaradei responded to Morsi’s speech in his own televised remarks, saying that Morsi’s government showed reluctance in acting to stop Wednesday night’s bloodshed outside the palace. He said this failure has eroded the government’s legitimacy and made it difficult for his opposition front to negotiate with the president.
ElBaradei said Morsi has not responded to the opposition group’s attempts to “rescue the country” and that the president had “closed the door for dialogue” by “ignoring the demands of the people.”