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Morsi's address fails to convince Egypt's opposition

In a televised address Wednesday night marking his first year in office, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi warned that political polarisation was threatening the country’s democratic process ahead of massive opposition protests over the weekend.


As the world’s most populous Arab nation braced for protests over the weekend, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi warned that political polarisation was “threatening to paralyse the country” in a long, and at times defiant, televised address Wednesday night.

In a nearly three-hour speech marking his first anniversary in office, Egypt’s Islamist president acknowledged making mistakes. But he also accused unspecified “dark forces” and “enemies of Egypt” of threatening the country.

"Political polarisation and conflict has reached a stage that threatens our nascent democratic experience and threatens to put the whole nation in a state of paralysis and chaos," said Morsi."The enemies of Egypt have not spared effort in trying to sabotage the democratic experience," he added.

Hours before Morsi’s speech, clashes in the northern city of Mansoura killed at least one and injured around 170 others, according to a Health Ministry spokesman.

A member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi is Egypt’s first Islamist president and his one year in office has been marked by deep divisions between pro-Islamist and liberal Egyptians.

But in his speech Wednesday night, Morsi blamed his adversaries – even naming some of them, including a judge and a TV executive – and called on them to stop hurting Egypt’s democratic process.

“What we heard from him tonight was really a very nationalistic speech. He was trying to appear humble by reaching out to Egyptians to pull together for the sake of the country,” said FRANCE 24’s Kathryn Stapley, reporting from Cairo. “But he didn’t seem at all rattled by upcoming protests. He said that he’s the legitimate president under the constitution and that should be respected.”

A nationwide anti-Morsi signature drive

Morsi’s speech came amid heightened tensions and increased security in major Egyptian cities ahead of Sunday’s planned protests marking Morsi’s first year in office.

Over the past few months, an opposition campaign called “Tamarod” – or rebellion in Arabic – has launched a petition calling for Morsi’s ouster. Holding the now ubiquitous blue posters, Tamarod volunteers have gathered at public spaces in Egyptian towns and cities, collecting signatures for a petition calling for early elections.

In his televised address Wednesday night, Morsi appeared to dismiss the calls for his ouster, noted Stapley.

“We heard him say there’s only one revolution and that was the January 25, 2011, revolution when former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was ousted. By that he clearly meant that the upcoming protests against him this weekend - which some people are calling ‘the second revolution’ - are really not going to work as far as he’s concerned.”

Hard times ahead of Ramadan

In the run-up to the protests, Egyptians have been stocking up on essential goods with long lines at gas stations flaying tempers and increasing the sense of economic malaise ahead of Ramadan, a period of high-spending for most Muslims.

With frequent power cuts and rising prices, daily life has been getting harder in middle class and lower income neighbourhoods. Egyptian authorities are still awaiting a $4.8 million IMF loan, which was agreed in principle two years ago.

Negotiations for the loan have run into repeated snags, with the IMF calling for more robust reforms. With economic growth down from a pre-2011 average of 7% to around 2% after the uprising, plummeting foreign reserves, rising unemployment and inflation, Egypt’s economy has been battered and is only being kept afloat by loans from Qatar and other regional states.

While Morsi acknowledged that life has been getting hard, he also blamed remnants of the old regime for holding the country back.

“He didn’t sound like a president who’s facing a huge opposition movement,” noted Stapley. “This speech was really a rallying cry to his supporters rather than an embattled president reaching out to his opponents.”

For their part, opposition supporters appeared unconvinced by Morsi’s arguments Wednesday night, said Stapley. “While his speech was going on, there were a few thousand protesters listening in Tahrir Square and they kept shouting, ‘liar’ as well as a lot of other insults as the president gave this speech,” said Stapley.


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