Morsy refuses to back down as Egyptian clashes continue
CAIRO — Army tanks surrounded Egypt’s presidential palace, hours after clashes there killed six people and injured more than 700.
In a televised address, President Mohamed Morsy blamed the violence on thugs paid by followers of ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak.
He said police arrested 80 people on Thursday in the worst violence yet between forces loyal to and opposed to him and the ruling Muslim Brotherhood.
Brotherhood officials said protesters raided and set fire to two of its offices here. Street clashes were reported outside one of the buildings.
The Brotherhood called for a march on Friday outside the offices of independent media, part of a “cleansing the media” campaign.
An angry Morsy refused to call off a referendum on a disputed constitution that has sparked Egypt’s worst political crisis in two years.
In his uncompromising stand, Morsy accused some in the opposition of serving remnants of Mubarak’s authoritarian regime and vowed he would never tolerate anyone working to overthrow his “legitimate” government.
That brought shouts of “the people want to topple the regime!” from the crowd of 30,000 Morsy opponents — the same chant used in the protests that brought down Mubarak.
Morsy invited the opposition to a “comprehensive and productive” dialogue starting Saturday at his presidential palace, but he gave no sign that he might offer any meaningful concessions.
Worried postings on social media websites predicted “the beginning of a crackdown.”
Political unrest has divided Egypt for more than two weeks since Morsy issued a decree granting himself nearly unlimited power. The anger intensified when he ordered a Dec. 15 referendum on a constitution drafted by a panel controlled by the Islamic-based Brotherhood.
Opponents say the proposed constitution would restrict individual freedom and lead to Islamist rule in the Arab world’s most populous nation.
Six senior Morsy advisers and three other government officials have resigned in protest. One of them, the man tasked with overseeing the constitutional vote, said he would “not participate in a referendum that spilled Egyptian blood.”
The army’s elite Republican Guard moved tanks and armored personnel carriers around the palace, set up barriers and cleared the area of protesters.
Morsy’s opponents vowed to carry on.
“The Muslim Brotherhood is counting on us being scared,” said one, artist Shereen Sadek, 38, “We are scared, but we will continue to go down and protest.”
Sherouq Mousaad, 19, a fine arts student, said Egyptians “are looking for our freedom” and denounced the Brotherhood as “monsters.”
“I think we have passed the tipping point — it is all just surreal,” she said.
Three large protest groups marched to the palace, chanting for Morsy to leave office.
Others converged on Tahrir Square, occupied by demonstrators since Morsy’s Nov. 22 decree, chanting “The Brotherhood killed our children!” and “Dictator!”
Morsy’s speech was partly a call for calm and unity, partly a warning to his opponents.
He said leaders of the violence “will not escape punishment,” suggested some of those arrested have confessed and hinted that support might have come “from inside or outside Egypt.”
One protester, Shereef Zein, 41, an engineer, said he is worried about violence but dismissed Morsy’s government as a fascist regime.”
“The cost of opposing a dictator early on is considerably less than when he is entrenched in power,” he said.
He and others here doubt the Dec. 15 referendum can occur, given the unrest. Most judges have said they will not oversee the voting; some Egyptian diplomats are refusing to supervise early voting by Egyptians overseas.
“Yesterday, the Muslim Brotherhood signed their death warrants,” said homemaker Amina Muhammed. Like many liberals here, she expressed anger with President Obama for failing to condemn Morsy’s power grab and the controversial constitution.
“Does America see this as in their benefit, for Egypt to turn into an Iran or Afghanistan?” she asked.
Other protesters pointed out that a top Morsy advisor is in Washington and met with top U.S. officials as deadly clashes erupted in Cairo.
Egyptian media is reporting that the deputy head of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party is heading to Washington, too. He recently dismissed anti-Morsy protesters as “counter-revolutionaries.”
Islamists increased their denunciations, on social-media websites and in the press, of Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population. An Islamist newspaper, Al Masryoun, headlined a story: “The church is planning to bring down Morsy.”
That angered Muhammed, the protesting homemaker. She said that during bloody clashes on Wednesday, Christian churches “opened their doors to help Muslims who were being slaughtered by the Muslim Brotherhood. They are playing on religion politically.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Betsy Hiel is the Tribune-Review’s foreign correspondent. Email her at [email protected].