A defiant speech by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi late last night has raised the stakes of his country's political crisis as the military's 48-hour deadline for compromise runs out this afternoon.
As his authority crumbles around him, with waves of resignations, uncooperative or striking government institutions, and even the national newspaper turning on him, Morsi is increasingly isolated and appears to have lost the ability to govern an Egypt roiled by protest. Yet Morsi refused to resign his elected office, essentially daring the military to make good on its threat of intervention and face accusations of a military coup.
Analysts say Mr. Morsi's speech, which warned of bloodshed should he be forced out, was seemingly directed at his Muslim Brotherhood supporters rather than the nation, and that his rhetoric about protecting constitutional legitimacy with his own blood increased the risk of further violence.
“There's no possibility of Morsi simply going forward in the fashion that he had laid out as his offer for how to resolve the crisis,” says Michael Hanna, a fellow at the New York-based Century Foundation. “The problem is, for all practical purposes, he has put the solidarity and coherence of the internal organization of the Muslim Brotherhood ahead of the well-being of the country.”
Brotherhood watchers say Morsi's resignation would cause strife within the organization. But if the president is forced from office, it would put the Brotherhood back on familiar ground – as an oppressed organization whose leaders can rally members with rhetoric about victimization. The organization was banned and its leaders and members often jailed by the previous regime.
In his rambling speech, Morsi invoked “legitimacy” dozens of times, stressing that he was a freely elected leader who could not allow a disruption of the constitutional process. “The people chose me in free and fair elections,” he said, arguing that he could not shirk that responsibility. Not respecting the constitutional legitimacy of his office, he said, would only lead to violence. He did not specifically mention the military's ultimatum, but a Tweet posted on his official account before the speech said that he “calls on the armed forces to withdraw their warning and rejects any dictates, domestic or foreign."
The president claimed that remnants of the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted by mass protests in 2011, were attempting to sow chaos and violence, and said the opposition had rejected calls for dialogue and compromise. His declaration that he was willing to “sacrifice my blood” was repeated as the main headline in his political party's newspaper, possibly steeling his supporters, many of whom have said they are prepared to prevent his ouster with their lives, for a violent confrontation.
“People saw the president's speech as a call to the barricades,” says Mr. Hanna. “[Morsi used] really loaded incendiary rhetoric, about blood and legitimacy. These are not words that you bandy about lightly in such a fraught situation.”
Violent clashes intensify
Even as Morsi was speaking, violent clashes were taking place between Morsi supporters and opponents outside Cairo University. Before the speech began, both sides appeared to be shooting at each other, and semi-automatic weapon fire could be heard in the area. The Health Ministry said this morning that at least 16 people were killed in the fighting.
The masses gathered at the presidential palace were quiet to listen to Morsi's speech, but roared their disapproval as soon as it was over, demanding that he step down or that the Army step in to remove him. Tamarod, the movement that called Sunday's mass protests, accused the president of “threatening the people.”
Millions of people had taken to the streets around Egypt Sunday to call for early presidential elections in a massive display of anger at Morsi. Protesters say Morsi has lost their trust because he has governed undemocratically and failed to solve Egypt's many crises. They call the huge show of anger in the streets akin to a referendum, and say he should resign.Morsi's supporters, who have also come to the streets in mass demonstrations, counter that the president was elected to serve four years and that Egypt must respect the results of the ballot box and cannot simply use the street to oust a leader. They also see as particularly dangerous the military's threat of intervention, with many calling it a military coup against an elected president.
The military Monday said it would intervene to impose its own "roadmap" to solve the crisis if the demands of the people were not met by this afternoon.
Calls for intervention
The opposition movements today called on the military to intervene to prevent more bloodshed, and asked the military to hold a national dialogue to lay out a plan "for the future transfer of power in a democratic way.”
Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel laureate turned Egyptian opposition figure who was nominated to lead any negotiations for the opposition, was meeting with the military leadership this afternoon ahead of the expiration of the military's deadline, said an opposition leader. The opposition has proposed a civilian council to govern Egypt until a new presidential election can be called.
The question hanging over the capital today is how the confrontation will end. The main government-owned newspaper, Al Ahram, turned on the president today with this headline in bold red splashed across the front page: “Today: Sacking or resignation?”
The Century Foundation's Hanna says Morsi cannot continue, but how he will leave is still unclear.
“Eventually Morsi would be forced to resign if events are left to their own inertia, but the problem obviously is what that would mean for the country, the real risk for violence and civil strife,” he says. “That's the dilemma at present, because no one wants to see military intervention.”