CAIRO — The fate of Egypt’s first democratically elected president hung in the balance yesterday, hours before a deadline to yield to the demands of millions of protesters or see the military suspend the constitution, disband parliament and install a new leadership.
Embattled Islamist President Mohammed Morsi vowed not to resign, however, and he demanded that the powerful armed forces withdraw their ultimatum, saying he rejected all “dictates” — from home or abroad.
In a speech to the nation, he pledged to protect his “constitutional legitimacy” with his life and accused loyalists of his autocratic predecessor Hosni Mubarak of riding the current wave of protests to topple his regime.
“There is no substitute for legitimacy,” said Morsi, who at times angrily raised his voice, thrust his fist in the air and pounded the podium. He warned that electoral and constitutional legitimacy “is the only guarantee against violence.”
Morsi’s defiant statement sets up a major confrontation between his Islamist supporters and Egyptians angry over what they see as his efforts to impose control by his Muslim Brotherhood, as well as his failure to introduce reforms more than two years after the Arab Spring revolution. His opponents say that he has lost his legitimacy through mistakes and power grabs and that their turnout on the streets shows the nation has turned against him.
Millions of jubilant, chanting Morsi opponents filled Cairo’s historic Tahrir Square, as well as avenues adjacent to two presidential palaces in the capital, and main squares in cities nationwide. After Morsi’s speech, they erupted in indignation, banging metal fences to raise a din, some raising their shoes in the air in a show of contempt. “Leave, leave,” they chanted.
Morsi “doesn’t understand. He will take us toward bloodshed and civil war,” said Islam Musbah, a 28-year-old protester sitting on the sidewalk outside the Ittihadiya palace, dejectedly resting his head on his hand.