CAIRO – His fate hanging in the balance, embattled President Mohammed Morsi vowed not to resign Tuesday, 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.
The Islamist leader demanded that the powerful armed forces withdraw their ultimatum, saying he rejected all “dictates” — from home or abroad. Outside on the streets, the sense that both sides are ready to fight to the end sharpened, with clashes between his supporters and opponents that left at least 10 dead.
In an emotional speech aired live to the nation, Morsi, who a year ago was inaugurated as Egypt’s first freely elected president, pledged to protect his “constitutional legitimacy” with his life. He accused loyalists of his ousted autocratic predecessor Hosni Mubarak of exploiting the wave of protests to topple his regime and thwart democracy.
“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 entrenches the lines of confrontation between his Islamist supporters and Egyptians angry over what they see as his efforts to impose control by his Muslim Brotherhood and his failures to deal with the country’s multiple problems.
The crisis has become a struggle over whether a popular uprising can overturn the verdict of the ballot box. Morsi’s opponents say he has lost his legitimacy through mistakes and power grabs and that their turnout on the streets over the past three days shows the nation has turned against him.
For a third day Tuesday, 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.
The president’s supporters also moved out in increased marches in Cairo and other cities. Morsi’s supporters have stepped up warnings that it will take bloodshed to dislodge him. While Morsi has stuck to a stance that he is defending democracy in Egypt, many of his Islamist backers have presented the fight as one to protect Islam.
“Seeking martyrdom to prevent the ongoing coup is what we can offer as a sign of gratitude to previous martyrs who died in the revolution,” Brotherhood stalwart Mohammed el-Beltagy wrote Tuesday on his official Facebook page.
Political violence was more widespread Tuesday, with multiple clashes between the two camps in Cairo as well as in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria.