London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi delivered a two and a half hour speech yesterday, marking his first year in office. Mursi admitted making mistakes and pledged “radical” reform to state institutions, but also denounced “enemies of Egypt” for sabotaging the democratic system.
It has been a turbulent 12-month period for the ruling Muslim Brotherhood party, amid strong opposition from liberal groups and parties.
The tensions in Egypt have climaxed with the establishment of the Tamarrod (Rebellion) movement and a massive petition calling for President Mursi to resign. The movement has claimed that it has collected 15 million signatures, and is calling for nation-wide protests across Egypt starting from June 30.
In his speech yesterday, Mursi warned against protests, stressing that continuing unrest is threatening to paralyze the country.
He said: “Political polarization and conflict has reached a stage that threatens our nascent democratic experience and threatens to put the whole nation in a state of paralysis and chaos. . . . The enemies of Egypt have not spared effort in trying to sabotage the democratic experience.”
Mursi was keen to differentiate between a “patriotic opposition,” and an illegitimate one, criticizing by name opponents from the previous government, current opposition, the media, the judiciary and the business world.
He also claimed that the opposition ignores the basic principles of democracy, refusing to take part in the political process. Mursi urged the opposition to forget protests and instead prepare for the upcoming parliamentary elections.
The president warned that “violence will only lead to violence,” adding that “the road to change is clear. . . . Our hands are extended.”
Mursi strongly criticized the media and appeared to hint that crimes such as insulting the presidency will be tried by a military court in the future. Although Mursi admitted making mistakes, he stressed that Egypt’s media is seeking to tarnish the image of his presidency.
The Egyptian president warned local media against misusing the freedoms brought about by the January 25 revolution. “One year is enough!” he said in reference to repeated criticisms of his performance.
Mursi also addressed Egypt’s escalating fuel crisis, apologizing to the Egyptian public for this.
In an interview with Turkish news agency Anadulo, the petroleum minister Sherif Haddara was quoted as saying that Egypt had enough diesel fuel to last eight days, enough butane for ten days and enough petrol for 14 days.
Elsewhere, the fuel crisis has been attributed to increased smuggling and black market activities. A presidential report issued Tuesday alleged that 92.6 million gallons (350.5 million liters) of diesel oil and 13.8 million gallons (52.1 million liters) of petrol have been smuggled illegally since the 2011 revolution.
“I apologize for the fuel crisis. . . . There is a “war of jerry cans” in the street, and we have begun to improve the system of distributing gas cylinders,” he added.
Mursi stressed that it is “in the public interest” to ensure a steady supply of fuel.
In what appeared to be off-the-cuff remarks, the Egyptian president named ten Egyptian figures by name, accusing them variously of exploiting the revolution and corruption.
Mursi accused presidential rival Ahmed Shafiq of working to overthrow the regime from abroad. He said: “[Shafiq] is based abroad, yet continues to call for toppling the [Egyptian] government. Is that not a crime?”
He also accused Shafiq of corruption during his time as Egyptian aviation minister, calling on the former prime minister to return to Egypt and face the charges against him.
Mursi also attempted to reassure Egypt’s Coptic community, stressing that he is the president of all Egyptians, not just those who voted for him. The president claimed that the media was seeking to divide Egypt along religious lines, portraying the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters as a “scarecrow” to incite Egypt’s Copts.
The president also called for a “national reconciliation committee” comprised of representatives from political parties, Al-Azhar, the Coptic Orthodox Church, “revolutionary forces” and NGOs.
It was striking that neither Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayyeb nor Coptic Patriarch Tawadros II was in the audience of the Cairo hall where he gave his speech yesterday.
Mursi ended his speech with a message to Egypt’s revolutionary youth, acknowledging that they have not received what was due them following the revolution.
He said: “The youth were never given a chance to play a role in the country, and for that I am sorry,” adding, “I will make sure they do soon.”
As for how Mursi’s speech will affect an already-divided Egypt, with huge protests expected on Sunday, opposition National Salvation Front (NSF) spokesman Khaled Dawoud told Reuters: “I am more determined than ever to go out on June 30 to demand the removal of an absolutely irresponsible president.”
Prominent Egyptian writer Alaa Al-Aswany slammed the speech as “miserable,” predicting that the June 30 protests will signal an end to Mursi’s rule.
NSF leader Amr Moussa also criticized Egypt’s president for failing to offer a detailed road map for national reconciliation or a clear economic recovery plan, as well as for blaming Egypt’s problems on protests and strikes.