Friday, December 7, 2012

Morsy speech angers opposition despite concessions

CAIRO, December 7, 2012

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsy on Thursday offered limited concessions to the country's opposition against a backdrop of continuing street protests over his extended constitutional powers.

But his uncompromising tone in a live television address, and his claim that violence on Wednesday night was the work of paid agents, brought an angry reaction from the opposition and on the streets, where protesters set fire to the headquarters of Mr Morsy's Muslim Brotherhood.

Mr Morsy promised that the new powers he controversially granted himself two weeks ago will lapse after the December 15 referendum on a new constitution, whether the latter is approved or not.

He had previously suggested that the choice before Egyptians was to approve the constitution or see him retain the unprecedented powers, which render his decrees immune to judicial review.

Mr Morsy also said he was open to dropping the clause in his November constitutional declaration enabling him to take any action he saw necessary to protect the country or the goals of the revolution.

The referendum on the draft constitution drafted by an Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly is to go ahead, however.

Cancelling the referendum has been a key demand of the opposition in recent protests.

Instead, the President announced that he will hold on Saturday a meeting of "political leaders and youth" to engage in "comprehensive and productive dialogue." The political concessions were overshadowed for many by the harsh tone in which Mr Morsy opened his speech, declaring that democracy meant that "the minority yields to the view of the majority." The President placed the blame for violence at protests at the Presidential palace on Wednesday on "infiltrators." Mr Morsy said that more than 80 people had been arrested after Wednesday night's violence, in which six people died.

"Sadly some of those arrested have links with those identifying themselves as political forces," he said. "The prosecution will announce the results of its inquiries into those who incited, perpetrated and funded the events." He said he drew a sharp distinction between "politicians and patriotic figures who object to certain political positions" and "those who use their money, corruptly gained by their business links with the previous regime ... to terrorize the nation." Despite its concessions, the speech brought an angry reaction on the streets of Cairo, with demonstrators outside the Presidential palace raising their shoes towards the palace walls in a sign of contempt.

Protestors reportedly attacked and burned the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo's eastern Moqattam district. Brotherhood spokesman Mohammed Ghozlan told state-run newspaper Al-Ahram that security forces on the scene had failed to intervene.

Al-Ahram reported that the Brotherhood had earlier ordered the evacuation of all its offices, fearing an attack.

Hamdeen Sabahy, a leader of the newly formed opposition alliance the National Salvation Front, rejected the President's proposed dialogue, insisting that he withdraw his constitutional declaration and cancel the referendum.

"This call for dialogue is not serious and is devoid of merit," Mr Sabahy said in a statement published on his official Facebook account, defending the opposition's position as "legitimate patriotic demands and genuine popular anger." Others members of the opposition questioned Mr Morsy's accusations.

"The President accused political forces without providing any evidence of funding," Popular Socialist Alliance Party spokeswoman Mona Ezzat said.

"This is the same kind of talk that we heard from the Mubarak regime and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces." US President Barack Obama telephoned Mr Morsy on Thursday to express his deep concern about the deaths and injuries of protesters, the White House said.

Mr Obama welcomed his counterpart's call for dialogue, but stressed that such a dialogue should occur without setting preconditions. The United States had pressed Egyptian opposition leaders to do the same, he said.
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