Morsi offers no concessions to the opposition


Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi yesterday offered no concessions to the opposition over his decree granting himself extraordinary powers or fixing the referendum on the disputed draft constitution for next week.

Instead, he chided opponents for mounting violent demonstrations on Wednesday night and accused them of involvement with “third parties”. He said 80 people had been arrested, some for carrying weapons, and vowed that investigators would discover who was “pulling the strings” whether inside or outside Egypt.

His words echoed those of ousted president Hosni Mubarak, who generally blamed “hidden hands” for stirring protests against his policies.

While Mr Morsi said he drew a clear distinction between honest critics and those who were bent on wreaking “havoc in our country”, he said he would enforce the law against those who resorted to violence.

This was his first utterance since protests began on Tuesday. He had delegated prime minister Hisham Kandil and vice-president Mahmoud Mekky to call for patience and dialogue as frustration built in both loyalist and opposition camps.

Exasperation with Mr Morsi’s approach is likely to be expressed today in opposition protests across the country.

While Egyptians waited for Mr Morsi to speak, thousands of opposition supporters gathered near barricades erected by the elite Republican Guards outside the presidential palace in the wealthy Heliopolis district of Cairo.

Protesters sought to reassert their presence in the streets around the palace 24 hours after pro-Morsi Muslim fundamentalists initiated clashes by attacking a tent camp pitched near the palace wall by activists.

Earlier in the day, tanks deployed outside the palace as Mr Morsi met ministers and military chief Gen Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to discuss how to end the clashes – the first between hostile political camps.

The guards cleared the area to prevent violence but commander Muhammad Zaki said the force would “not be a tool to repress demonstrators and will not use any tools of force against the Egyptian people”.

The interior ministry also declared its neutrality in the struggle between fundamentalist supporters of the president and opponents, calling for him to rescind a decree giving himself wide powers and postpone the referendum on the disputed constitution which opponents say fails to protect the rights of women and minorities and grants Muslim clerics the power to interpret vague provisions.

While Mr Morsi has received strong backing from the Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm, the Freedom and Justice party, he has suffered a loss of legitimacy due to the resignations of Coptic Christian Rafik Habib, who was the deputy head of the party, six of the 17 members of his advisory council, the head of state television and the chairman of the committee set to supervise the referendum.

Al-Azhar, the leading source of Sunni Muslim religious rulings, urged Mr Morsi to suspend his sweeping powers.

Former presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fattouh, a popular moderate fundamentalist, urged Mr Morsi to renounce his powers, rewrite the constitution and reform the interior ministry and called on Muslim Brotherhood youth not to mix religion and politics.

The Union of Revolutionary Youth announced it would lodge a legal complaint against the Guidance Bureau of the Brotherhood for instigating clashes and implicating Mr Morsi in the violence.

“God curses in His Holy Book those who ignite the fires of sedition,” said union spokesman Haitham al-Khatib.

Hamada al-Kashef, a member of the executive, said: “The regime’s legitimacy has disintegrated” because the Brotherhood had killed Egyptians and he called for overthrow of the regime.

Eleven professional associations representing lawyers, musicians, actors, artists, painters and writers blamed the Brotherhood for the violence.