Morsi to make his move as protests loom
26 June 2013, 17:11
Cairo - President Mohammed Morsi will speak to the Egyptian
people on Wednesday in a televised address that could determine his political
survival as millions prepare to rally to demand his removal this weekend.
Fears of a showdown in the streets between Morsi’s Islamist
supporters and a broad coalition of the disaffected have led people to stock up
on food and buy up fuel supplies.
The army and police are preparing to contain any trouble,
adding men and barriers around important public buildings.
Morsi has given no hint of the contents of what aides called
an "important speech", to start around 21:30 at a Cairo stadium
before an invited crowd. Some speculate he may reshuffle his cabinet to try to
defuse the anger against him.
Some observers fear Egypt may be about to erupt again,
through a combination of political polarisation since the revolution that overthrew
Hosni Mubarak and an economic slump that means Mursi's government is fast
running out of cash.
While a number of his critics worry about Islamist rule,
most appear simply frustrated by falling living standards.
Washington has urged him to bring the opposition into the
political process and to press ahead with economic reforms.
All sides insist they do not want violence, but there have
been scuffles, and deaths, in recent days. The army has warned it could step
back in, a year after it handed power to the elected president. Residents saw
tanks taking up positions near a major highway running into Cairo.
15 million signatures
The army is held in high regard by Egyptians, especially
since it pushed aside Mubarak following the 2011 uprising. Its chief issued a
warning on Sunday, urging compromise while also defending the legitimacy of Morsi’s
The loyalty of police and other internal security services
to a government led by Islamists they spent decades oppressing under Mubarak
may be in question. Nationwide opposition rallies, are due to start on Sunday
but could begin earlier.
Morsi says a petition demanding he quit - which liberal
organisers say has 15 million signatures - is undemocratic. In that, he has
support from Islamists, who have staged shows of strength in recent days and
plan a major Cairo rally on Friday.
But both the army and many outsiders have been urging Morsi
to bridge differences with his non-Islamist opponents. He says he has tried.
They say he and his Muslim Brotherhood, along with harder line allies, are
trying to monopolise the state.
"This demonstration is spontaneous and comes from the
Egyptian people. We hope that it will bring the government ultimately to a
place where the reforms are effected and choices that need to be made about the
economy are implemented," US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday
in Saudi Arabia.
"We will obviously hope that it will not produce
violence and be a moment of catalysing positive change for Egypt itself."
In his speech, Morsi may offer a rundown of achievements
since he became Egypt's first freely chosen leader and explain how he plans to
end a mounting budget crisis. He has had help from Qatar and other oil-rich
Arab states but major reforms, including cuts to fuel and food subsidies, may
Morsi may announce a cabinet reshuffle, possibly replacing
Prime Minister Hisham Kandil with a figure from among the secular opposition.
There is also talk on social media of some more spectacular move, turning to
the army or calling elections.
The opposition have low expectations. Liberal activists plan
to watch the speech on an open-air screen in Cairo's Tahrir Square, where
revolt against Mubarak began in January 2011.
Liberal coalition spokesman Khaled Dawoud said: "He
missed several opportunities in the past to build bridges with the Egyptian
people. At this point, it's too late for any possible measures short of early
elections, to stop the demonstrations."
Dawoud likened Morsi’s address to televised speeches made by
Mubarak during the revolt. Mubarak fired his prime minister in a vain attempt
to appease the crowds on the streets. His army turned against him and eased him
aside after 18 days.
For ordinary Egyptians, the main concern today is economic
hardship, especially since the unrest of the revolution scared off tourists,
cutting a vital source of income. Power cuts and fuel shortages have been the
talk of the country for weeks.
In Cairo and other cities, long lines of vehicles have
formed at fuel stations.
Among criticisms of Morsi, a less than charismatic speaker
who became the Brotherhood's presidential candidate as a last-minute stand-in,
is that he has turned for support to harder line Islamist groups, including
The lynching of five people from the Shi'ite Muslim minority
on Sunday revived fears among minorities, including Egypt's several million
Christians, and was used by the opposition to portray Morsi as tolerant of an