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 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 23 dead, most of them in a single incident of fighting outside Cairo University.
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 showed that he and his Muslim Brotherhood are prepared to run the risk of challenging the army. It also 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. The president’s supporters also moved out in increased marches in Cairo and other cities.