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As Egypt's Morsi remains defiant, a former top Brother speaks out (+video)

A former senior leader of the Muslim Brotherhood outlined his disappointment in President Mohamed Morsi today, who is rushing through a new Egyptian constitution.

By Gert Van LangendonckCorrespondent / December 6, 2012

Egyptian protesters chant anti Muslim Brotherhood and Egyptian President Mosri slogans outside the presidential palace in Cairo, Thursday, Dec. 6. The Egyptian army has deployed tanks outside the presidential palace in Cairo following clashes between supporters and opponents of Mohamed Morsi.

Hassan Ammar/AP

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Cairo

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi addressed the nation tonight after two days of protests and clashes that have seen bloodshed and a polarization of society between Islamists, who appear to be in the majority, and citizens who favor secular government.

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Egypt is experiencing its worst crisis since there since the revolution two years ago. Outrage has erupted over President Morsi's power grab and proposed constitution.

The president insisted that a constitutional referendum scheduled for Dec. 15 will go forward, offered no compromises on the contents of the document, and warned that elements among the protesters are seeking to destabilize Egypt.  

His supporters at the palace shared that point of view this afternoon. Mahmoud Abdelaziz, an engineer, says the opposition constitutes no more than 10 percent of Egyptians. "This fight will be over soon," he says.

Other supporters say they captured 42 “thugs” during the violence of the night before. They handed them over to the palace guards, not to the police. “We don’t trust the police anymore since they let the protesters flood the perimeter of the palace on Tuesday. Some of them sympathize with the other side.”

The propaganda from the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement that's at the base of Morsi's power, has worked well on these men, who seem to genuinely believe that they are saving their country from destruction. But elsewhere cracks are appearing in the Brotherhood's facade, suggesting that it's more than just a “bunch of thugs” who are unhappy with Morsi.

Nine Morsi administration officials have quit their jobs since the president issued a decree on Nov. 22 giving himself unprecedented powers.

On Thursday, the vice-president of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), Rafik Habib, said he was retiring from political life. Habib is a Christian, and he served as a token of the Brotherhood’s openness and diversity.

The head of Egypt’s state TV, Essam El-Amir, quit in protest over what he called Morsi’s mismanagement and dividing of the country. The secretary-general of the commission that is supposed to oversee the referendum over Egypt’s new constitution on Dec. 15 also quit, saying that he “will not participate in a referendum that has spilled Egyptian blood.”

And in what must be most embarrassing for an Islamist president, Al Azhar, the highest Sunni religious authority in Egypt called on Morsi on Thursday to suspend the decree and enter into real dialogue with the opposition.

Former top Brother speaks

Kemal Helbawy didn’t wait for Morsi’s decree to resign from the Muslim Brotherhood.

A former member of the Brotherhood’s guidance bureau, and its spokesperson in the 1990s, Mr. Helbawy joined the movement at age 12. He spent 23 years in exile in the UK until the fall of Mubarak. In March, he spectacularly resigned while live on a TV talkshow, on the same day the Brotherhood announced that it was running Khairat El Shater for president.

“It has been said that I resigned over El Shater’s presidential bid, but that’s not true,” says Helbawy in his office in Nasr City. “It was the reluctance of the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood in formally joining the revolution.... I told them on Jan. 20, 2011 – I was at the time in London in my exile – that it was a shame that we didn’t invite all the people to come to Tahrir Square. Because they had announced that they would not participate in what they thought was just a demonstration. Then when they did effectively join the revolution they left early, and they didn’t participate in the demonstrations during the transition period.”

Candidate Shater, who had done time in prison under Mubarak for his political activism, was ultimately disqualified from running and replaced with Morsi. He is said to remain extremely influential within the organization. 

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