Morsi offers to listen, activists unmoved

NOTHING NEW::Opponents of the Egyptian president said they would stage a huge rally on Sunday, while the armed forces chief warned troops might intervene

Reuters, CAIRO

Fri, Jun 28, 2013 - Page 7

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi offered opponents a say in amending Egypt’s constitution, but railed against “enemies” he accused of undermining the new democracy in a defiant speech ahead of mass protests planned to demand that he step down.

As the Islamist head of state ended a marathon televised address early yesterday, liberals said they had heard nothing new, including any offer to include them in committees to draft institutional reforms and study “national reconciliation.”

Opposition plans to stage a huge protest on Sunday, when Morsi completes a year as Egypt’s first freely elected leader, were unchanged. After two people were killed in factional street fighting on Wednesday, the risk remains of a violent showdown, as Islamists also plan to rally in force.

Instability in the biggest Arab nation could send shocks well beyond its borders. It has long been an ally of the US, which still funds Egypt’s armed forces heavily.

The army, for decades the arbiter of Egyptian politics, has warned it may step back in to keep order. The head of the armed forces had a front-row seat in the audience for Morsi’s speech in Cairo, which lasted nearly three hours.

General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who was promoted by Morsi, has warned feuding politicians that if they fail to forge a consensus and violence runs out of control, then troops would intervene.

Morsi offered a diagnosis of Egypt’s problems since the revolution of 2011 that, with military help, forced out Hosni Mubarak.

“Political polarization and conflict have reached a stage that threatens our nascent democratic experience and threatens to put the whole nation in a state of paralysis and chaos,” he said.

He acknowledged unspecified “errors” and promised reforms to help Egypt’s fast-growing young population; he spoke of cutting unemployment and raising the minimum wage, but blamed opponents for the instability that has driven the economy into crisis.

However, unmoved liberal opponents mocked the length of his speech, his personal attacks on public figures and the cheering of the partisan audience seen on national television.

“Our demand was early presidential elections and since that was not addressed anywhere in the speech, then our response will be on the streets on June 30,” said Mahmoud Badr, the founder of the campaign to demonstrate on that date, the first anniversary of Morsi’s inauguration. “I hope he’ll be watching.”

Badr, a 28-year-old journalist who launched a petition for Morsi’s removal under the slogan “Tamarud-Rebel,” says it has gathered 15 million signatures in two months.

“I feel ashamed that this man has become a president of my state,” he said.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said in Kuwait: “Egypt is historically a critical country to this region... Our hope is that all those interested parties who are preparing to demonstrate will do so in a peaceful and responsible way, that builds the future of Egypt, doesn’t tear it down.”

Before Morsi spoke, two people were killed and more than 200 were treated for injuries in the city of Mansoura, north of Cairo, when Islamist supporters clashed with their opponents.

Overnight, there were also skirmishes in Alexandria when youths approached a rally of Morsi supporters in the city.

Fears of a violent standoff in the streets between Morsi’s Islamist supporters and a broad coalition of the disaffected have led people to stock up on food. Long lines of cars outside fuel stations have snarled roads in Cairo and other cities.