Egypt’s opposition criticizes president’s speech
CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s main opposition coalition on Thursday rejected the Islamist president’s offer for dialogue on reconciliation and said it insists on holding early elections, ratcheting up pressure on Mohammed Morsi just days ahead of planned mass protests seeking his ouster.
Adding to an already explosive political atmosphere in Egypt, authorities issued a travel ban on a media tycoon and an arrest warrant for a popular TV presenter — a sharp critic of Morsi — in what appears to be an escalation against private media accused by the president of instigating violence and being funded by those loyal to the former regime.
A statement by the National Salvation Front read by reform leader Mohamed ElBaradei said Morsi’s 2 ½-hour speech late Wednesday reflected a “clear inability to acknowledge the difficult conditions in Egypt because of his failure in running the country since he took office a year ago.”
In the speech, Morsi told his opponents to use elections not protests to try to change the government, and counseled the military, which has warned it would intervene if violence breaks out, to focus on improving its capabilities and defending the nation.
He defended his performance in his first year in office, admitting some mistakes but also claiming achievements. At one point he apologized for fuel shortages which have partially paralyzed the nation, increasing frustration and anger at his government.
But the president offered no compromises in the confrontation with his opponents. Those organizing the protests for Sunday — the anniversary of Morsi’s inauguration — say he must go because he has mismanaged the country, given a monopoly on decision-making to the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist allies, and encroached on the judiciary.
“The president ... did not take responsibility for the polarization he has caused among the sons of one nation since taking office,” ElBaradei said.
The Nobel Peace Laureate and a former head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog added: “nothing will change our determination to go out on June 30 everywhere in Egypt. We are confident that the Egyptian masses will go out in their millions in peaceful protests that fill the streets and squares of Egypt on Sunday June 30.”
“Our strength is in our numbers and our nonviolence and we must not forget that. No one can stand in the way of the will of Egyptian people,” he said in response to a reporter’s question.
ElBardei spoke after a senior opposition leader and a fellow member of the Front, former foreign minister Amr Moussa, criticized Morsi for not offering a detailed road map for national reconciliation and accused him of not taking the opposition seriously.
In a statement, Moussa also criticized Morsi for not offering a “clear” economic recovery plan and for blaming the nation’s woes on street protests and strikes. He later told The Associated Press that Morsi and his Islamist backers “don’t want to recognize there is anger. They are missing the point, a major point. They are in a state of denial.”
Another key opposition leader and member of the Front, Hamdeen Sabahi, said Morsi’s speech did not rise to the occasion.
“He talked a lot but did not say anything,” he told a television interviewer late on Wednesday. Sabahi also called on Morsi to step down, saying he was “bearing what (he) cannot handle.”
Moussa said the opposition, like the military, wanted a genuine reconciliation, something he said was not mentioned in the president’s speech.
“We didn’t hear anything about this reconciliation having a plan, a rational direction or a detailed proposal worthy of study and discussion. What we heard was a routine call for dialogue and the creation of committees like those that were promised before but never materialized,” he said.
He said economic reforms introduced by Morsi so far were inconsequential and the economy is going from bad to worse. “Furthermore, what does a strike by certain group, a gathering in a square, have to do with repairing hospitals or reforming the railways?”
The opposition leaders and Morsi before them spoke as tension built up in Egypt ahead of Sunday’s protests with the army reinforcing its positions outside major cities in anticipation of possible violence.
Moussa, also a former Arab league chief, said it was unbecoming of the president to mention by name and accuse of corruption a serving judge along with the owners of two TV networks that have been critical of his policies for their alleged difficulties in settling outstanding tax or debts.
In his speech, Morsi also railed against judges who have acquitted officials accused of corruption or police commanders who faced charges of killing protesters during and after the 2011 uprising that ousted Egypt’s longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. The president also repeated assurances that he respects the judiciary.
“When he accuses people by name, he must at least present the evidence,” said judge Amir Ramzy. “It was obvious from the president’s words and gestures that he has a grudge against judges.”
The president also criticized the country’s minority Christians of what he called fear of all things Islamic and complained that church leaders greet him with insincere smiles that conceal that fear.
Less than 24 hours after Morsi’s speech, Prosecutor General Talaat Abdullah —a Morsi appointee — issued a travel ban against media tycoon Mohammed el-Ameen, owner of the popular TV network CBC, official news agency MENA said.
The agency said el-Ameen is being investigated for nearly 427 million Egyptian pounds ($61 million dollars) of alleged tax evasion. The ban came hours after Morsi named el-Ameen as one of several Mubarak loyalists who aim to thwart his rule.
The prosecutor general then issued an arrest warrant for another Morsi critic, Tawfiq Okasha, while the government ordered the shutdown of his popular “Al-Fareen” TV station. Okasha stands accused of spreading false news and causing panic among the population.
Okasha, whose station has been shut down before and is still fighting similar charges that include insulting the president and the Brotherhood, has emerged as one of the most popular TV personalities of post-Mubarak Egypt.
Meanwhile, the Brotherhood said two of its members were killed, one by gunfire, in the Nile Delta province of Sharqiya, where it accused “thugs” of storming the headquarters of its political wing. In another Delta province, security officials said riot police fired tear gas to disperse anti-Morsi demonstrators and Brotherhood members fighting after protesters torched the group’s local office and houses believed to be owned by its members.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.
The prosecutor, Abdullah, also referred Mubarak and his two sons to a criminal court over alleged squandering of public funds. The three are already being tried on other corruption charges, and Mubarak himself over his role in the killings of protesters during the 2011 uprising.
Protesters are hoping to bring out massive crowds Sunday, saying they have tapped into widespread discontent over economic woes, rising prices and unemployment, power cuts and lack of security. The June 30 protests are rooted in a campaign by young activists called “Tamarod,” or rebel. They claim to have collected about 15 million signatures of Egyptians who want Morsi to step down.
Morsi’s Islamist allies are planning a counter-demonstration on Friday in support of his “legitimacy.” Some say they are planning an open-ended sit-in at a mosque near the presidential palace — the planned destination of the main anti-Morsi protest two days later — raising fears of street violence.
Associated Press writers Maggie Michael and Mariam Rizk contributed to this report.