Egypt’s Morsy stands by edict, calls for punishment of violent protesters
Reza Sayah, Ian Lee and Greg Botelho, CNN
9:15 PM EST, Thu December 6, 2012
NEW: Sabahi, ElBaradei and Moussa are being investigated, a prosecutor's spokesman says
NEW: An umbrella opposition group calls for a mass protest, says authorities "lost legitimacy"
President Morsy calls for dialogue, but doesn't revoke his edict or the constitutional vote date
Distrustful opposition activists accuse Morsy's supporters of violence
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy didn’t back off the controversial edict he issued or Egypt’s upcoming constitutional referendum, saying Thursday night that he respects peaceful opposition to his decisions but won’t stand for violence.
Addressing “those who oppose me” and his supporters, Morsy condemned those involved in recent clashes – referring specifically to those armed with weapons and who are backed and funded by members of the “corrupt … ex-regime” – and promised they’d be held accountable.
“(They) will not escape punishment,” the president said in a televised speech.
Morsy’s words not only failed to mollify many protesters on the streets, it further enraged them. Activists camped in Cairo’s Tahrir Square chanted “Leave! Leave! Leave!” as the president talked.
A street vendor grills corn as Egyptian soldiers stand guard at the Presidential Palace on Tuesday, December 18, in Cairo. Protesters opposed to President Mohamed Morsy's first round of voting in the constitutional referendum gather during continuing demonstrations.
Egyptian army tanks are deployed outside the presidential palace in Cairo on Thursday, December 13. Egypt's crisis showed no sign of easing as the army delayed unity talks meant to ease political divisions and the opposition set near-impossible demands for taking part in a looming constitutional referendum.
A young protester climbs atop a barricade erected by the Egyptian army on December 11. There were no incidents of violence and soldiers held the line as a couple of hundred protesters pressed up against waist-high crowd barriers.
An Egyptian army soldier patrols outside the Egyptian presidential palace on Monday, December 10, in Cairo. The Egyptian political crisis erupted last month when President Mohamed Morsy issued an edict allowing himself to run the country unchecked until the drafting of a new constitution.
Members of the Egyptian opposition gather for a protest outside the presidential palace on Sunday, December 9, in Cairo. The palace has been the scene of violent clashes pitting thousands of protesters -- for and against Morsy.
Guy Fawkes masks are displayed by a street vendor in front of the Egyptian presidential palace in Cairo on December 9. The masks depict Fawkes, a rebel executed in England's Gunpowder Plot seeking to blow up the House of Lords in the early 1600s.
A Morsy supporter waves a flag outside the Supreme Constitutional Court as hundreds of supporters of the president protest on Sunday, December 2, in Cairo, forcing judges to postpone a hearing on a constitutional panel at the heart of a deepening political crisis.
Activists in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Monday, November 26, carry the coffin of Gaber Salah, an activist who died overnight after he was critically injured in clashes in Cairo. Salah, a member of the April 6 movement known by his nickname "Jika," was injured last week during confrontations between police and protesters on Cairo's Mohammed Mahmud street.
Protesters clash with Egyptian police at Simon Bolivar Square on Sunday, November 25, in Cairo. Egypt's powerful Muslim Brotherhood called nationwide demonstrations in support of Islamist President Mohamed Morsy in his showdown with the judges over the path to a new constitution.
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy waves to supporters in front of the presidential palace in Cairo on Friday, November 23. Thousands of ecstatic supporters gathered outside the presidential palace to defend their leader against accusations from rival protesters that he has become a dictator.
Morsy supporters gather outside the presidential palace in Cairo on Friday. Morsy insisted that Egypt was on the path to "freedom and democracy," as protesters held rival rallies over sweeping powers he assumed that further polarized the country's political forces.
Clashes rocked the coastal city of Alexandria on Friday.
And minutes after the speech ended, the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in Cairo was “ablaze,” state TV reported, citing witnesses. The Islamist group said on its website and Twitter that the building came under “a terrorist attack,” with hundreds were surrounding it.
Yet by 1 a.m. Friday, there was no sign of a fire or significant damage to the building. Supporters from both sides were at the site, as were security forces between them and the headquarters.
Jihad Haddad, a senior adviser in the Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood that Morsy once led, wrote on Twitter that 36 Brotherhood and party offices were “destroyed” by opponents in the last two weeks. Banned under longtime President Hosni Mubarak, the Brotherhood is now Egypt’s dominant political force.
On Twitter, the Islamist group has said it would hold opposition figures “fully responsible for escalation of violence & inciting their supporters.”
Adel Saeed, a spokesman for Egypt’s newly appointed general prosecutor, said Friday morning that Hamdeen Sabahi, Mohamed ElBaradei and Amr Moussa are being investigated for allegedly “conspiring to topple” the government. All three are well-known internationally – with ElBaradei being a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Moussa a one-time head of the Arab League – and are now being probed for their role in the opposition against Morsy, who defeated all three in this year’s presidential election.
Those taking part in the protests around the North African nation say the scenes are similar to those of the 2011 uprising that led to Mubarak’s ouster. This time, they say, dissent is being vigorously stamped out by Morsy’s backers in government and on the street.
Specifically, they spoke of thugs with knives and rocks chasing activists, presidential backers belittling opponents and pressure from various quarters to go home and be quiet.
“It’s exactly the same battle,” said Hasan Amin, a CNN iReporter.
A November 22 edict by Morsy, in which he made his decisions immune to judicial oversight until a new constitution is voted upon, set off the latest wave of political unrest. And it’s been growing – and growing more violent – in recent days.
Ahead of the president’s speech, opposition leaders were specific in what would mollify them: Morsy must roll back his edict granting himself expanded presidential powers and postpone the scheduled December 15 referendum on a proposed constitution, which they say doesn’t adequately represent or protect all Egyptians.
That fact, itself, isn’t surprising. Morsy previously defended the edict as necessary to defend the revolution and his administration has insisted the proposed constitution was drafted legally and the referendum will go on as planned. If people vote it down, the president said Thursday night that he’d form a new assembly to draft another constitution.
Yet opposition activists haven’t shown any indication that they trust Morsy on that or other counts. They accuse him of consolidating power for himself and the Muslim Brotherhood, in part by having an Islamist-dominated group push through the draft constitution.
“This is not what we asked for,” one protester said. “It’s a complete dictatorship.”
The National Salvation Front, an umbrella group of opposition groups, including ElBaradei’s Constitution Party, promised their fight is not over, calling for more mass protests Friday and claiming authorities “lost legitimacy,” said the group, according to the semi-official al-Ahram newspaper.
These demonstrations would follow heated protests Thursday, including about 65 kilometers (40 miles) north of Cairo where a crowd tried to storm Morsy’s home, according to the Interior Ministry. Police fired tear gas to disperse the group, and at least 20 protesters and six police officers were injured. Police arrested eight suspects carrying swords and clubs, the ministry said. Morsy was not at the home at the time.
Egyptian judges and media organizations also have staged strikes to show their displeasure with the situation. And 11 organizations representing lawyers, journalists, writers, actors, musicians and tour guides said Morsy and the Muslim Brotherhood were behind the violence, al-Ahram reported.
The group said it would call for Morsy’s ouster if the administration failed to protect protesters and “fulfill the aspirations of the January 25 revolution,” the newspaper said.
Vice President Mahmoud Mekki asked critics Wednesday to submit their proposals for improving the constitution, and Morsy invited political opponents to a meeting Saturday at the president palace.
But Morsy hasn’t said he’s ready to alter the constitution or the planned referendum date. And some Muslim Brotherhood officials have been more steadfast, as well as derogatory toward the opposition.
Muslim Brotherhood Secretary-General Mahmoud Hussein said Thusday protesters weren’t interested in democracy. He accused them of using “crude and contemptible ways of expression, rather than (putting) their points across in a civilized manner.”
While insisting he respects Egyptians’ right to peaceful protest, Morsy spent a significant portion of his Thursday night speech blasting those he claims are behind the recent violence. He accused unspecified foreign and domestic sources of funding and fomenting the unrest, making specific reference to “corrupt” opposing forces tied to Mubarak’s government.
“The deposed Mubarak regime will not be brought back to life under any circumstances,” Morsy said, tweeted the Muslim Brotherhood.
Reza Sayah and Ian Lee reported from Cairo; Greg Botelho reported and wrote from Atlanta. CNN’s Saad Abedine, Michael Pearson, Karen Smith and Amir Ahmed and journalist Mohamed Fadel Fahmy also contributed to this report.