During a more than 2-hour television interview, Egypt’s Islamist president sought to depict himself as a man of the people, his voice rising and tears welling in his eyes as he spoke of the country’s poor and portrayed the masses protesting against his rule as “thugs” and “outlaws.”
The long interview, aired after midnight in the early hours Monday, appeared to be a push by Mohammed Morsi to burnish his image amid widespread unrest ahead of parliamentary elections that begin in April.
But it illustrated the dynamic that has characterized Egypt’s politics throughout political turmoil that has shaken the country for months. The Morsi administration, backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, has pushed ahead offering no concessions to the opposition but has also presented little by way of a program to resolve the country’s mounting troubles. A disorganized opposition has been unable to find a foothold to pressure the president or provide an alternative, while street protests grow angrier.
Critics on Monday denounced Morsi’s comments as mere bluster and, worse, as reminiscent of the rhetoric of his autocratic predecessor, Hosni Mubarak. Morsi’s depiction of the protesters as criminals will likely only deepen the hostility in the already dangerously polarized nation.
“I am no longer optimistic about this presidency and I fear the days ahead because the anger is rising,” prominent activist and rights lawyer Gamal Eid said of the interview. “We now have a presidency that does not listen, an opposition that is in tatters and, more importantly, a bloc of angry youth who are out of control. (...)
In his interview, Morsi, who came to power in June as Egypt’s first freely elected president, gave no outlines for his economic plans or for bringing security amid increasing lawlessness. Instead, he sought to come across as a firm pair of hands, an uncompromising patriot and a compassionate leader in touch with his people. (...)
Referring to a general strike in the Mediterranean city of Port Said that has entered its second week, Morsi said, “these are acts of thuggery and violence ... There is no place for thugs and no place for outlaws.”
He suggested protesters were paid to take to the streets — though he didn’t say by whom. He said he had heard of a 13-year-old boy whose mother was given 600 Egyptian pounds — a little under $100 — to send him to a protest so he could throw firebombs.
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