Egypt's opposition: Too late for talks

2013-06-11 16:46
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. (AFP)

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. (AFP)

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Cairo - Egypt's largest opposition grouping said on Tuesday that calls by the country's Islamist president for national reconciliation talks come "too late", as activists geared up for a street protest campaign at the end of the month to demand Mohammed Morsi's ouster.

President Morsi made the call during a fiery speech on Monday over Ethiopia's plans to build a dam on the Blue Nile, a project Cairo claims would jeopardise the flow of the Nile River through Egypt and cause a critical water shortage in the country.

In the speech, Morsi urged Egyptians to unite behind a common stand, saying he was "ready to meet anyone to serve the nation's interest" to consolidate the country's internal front in the face of outside dangers.

Critics accuse Morsi of using the Nile dam issue to whip up nationalist fervour and undercut the opposition's push for his ouster.

"Such a call is simply lip service on Morsi's part and tasteless PR," said Khaled Dawoud, spokesperson of the National Salvation Front, the main opposition coalition. "It is rather too late after Morsi failed to hold a single serious dialogue in his year in office," Dawoud said.

Tensions are rising ahead of 30 June, when Morsi marks one year as Egypt's first freely elected president. He came to power in the aftermath of the 2011 uprising that toppled his predecessor, autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

The opposition has called for mass demonstrations to mark the anniversary by calling for his ouster.

Anticipating violence during the upcoming protests, Egypt's Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim told police officers on Tuesday that security forces will not get into confrontations with protesters.

He said that the presidential palace, which will be the focal point of protests, will be protected by the Republican Guard forces charged with defending the president. Police will not be deployed there, unlike previous protests at the palace.

Clashes between security forces and protesters over the last two years have left scores dead.

Morsi has substantial opposition from within the police force. Earlier this year, police officers held a nation-wide strike demanding that Morsi not use them against the opposition. They decry what they call the "Brotherhoodization" of the police, the alleged appointment of Morsi loyalists in key posts.

Some police also blame him for what they say as a failure to crack down hard enough on militant groups in the Sinai Peninsula. The Monday funeral of a counter-terrorism officer killed by militants there turned into a protest, with policemen chanting "Leave, Morsi!"

Liberal and secular-minded groups accuse Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood of causing deep polarisation among Egyptians, saying he has not fulfilled his promises of creating an inclusive political process and instead allowing Islamists to monopolise power.

The Brotherhood in turn charges the opposition of trying to unseat Morsi through street violence, instead of through the ballot box, and insists the opposition lacks grass-root support.

A group of youth activists representing different political parties and movements announced on Tuesday that they will set up a plan for a post-Morsi period should the president step down.

The call for Morsi's ouster is rooted in a signature drive known as "Rebel" or "Tamarod," conducted by thousands of young volunteers across Egypt. The campaign said it collected so far seven million signed petitions and it aims at 15 million by 30 June. The signatures have no legal base to force Morsi's removal but the campaign has boosted the morale of to the country's fragmented opposition.

The Ethiopian dam issue has added to the sense of crisis among Egyptians, compounded by economic woes and a security vacuum.

The $4.2bn hydroelectric dam, which would be Africa's largest, challenges a colonial-era agreement that gave Egypt and Sudan the lion's share of rights to Nile water. Experts estimate that Egypt could lose as much as 20% of its Nile water in the three to five years needed for Ethiopia to fill a massive reservoir.

In Monday's speech, Morsi said Egypt was not calling for war but is willing to confront any threats to its water security.

"If it loses one drop, our blood is the alternative," he said to a raucous crowd of largely Islamist supporters.

Read more on:    mohammed morsi  |  egypt  |  north africa

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