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.
A statement by the National Salvation Front read by reform leader Mohamed ElBaradei said Morsi’s 2½-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 to making 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 his 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 UN 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 on Sunday and an acute shortage of fuel partially paralyzing the nation.
There were no major clashes between supporters and opponents of Morsi on Thursday, but tension remains high in a string of coastal and Nile Delta cities.
Moussa, also 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.
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.