Mubarak warns of 'chaos'

2010-05-06 16:39

Cairo - President Hosni Mubarak challenged the Egyptian opposition on Thursday to spell out their political programmes, warning them against "chaos", in his first speech since returning to Cairo.

Mubarak, 82, arrived in the capital this week from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, where he convalesced after surgery in Germany in March to remove his gall bladder.

In his first live speech to an audience since the operation, Mubarak told a Workers' Day celebration that he remains committed to political reforms and supports an independent judiciary and free elections.

"The upcoming elections will be free and have integrity," he told the cheering audience.

A parliamentary election is to be held later this year, followed early next year by a presidential poll. Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt since 1981, has yet to announce whether he will stand again.

"In this delicate period, there can be no room for those who fuse change with chaos," he said.

He welcomed an increase in social activism but added: "I have apprehensions about those who slip ... into agitation that subjects Egypt and its sons to the dangers of regression.

"I say to those who raise slogans and content themselves with posturing: This is not enough to gain the trust of the people. They must respond to the questions of the poor. What can they offer them?" he said.

Mubarak, whose government has faced criticism at home over its economic reforms, challenged opposition parties to submit their programmes on investment and job creation, and on foreign policy.

Regular sit-ins

Egypt has won the praise of foreign investors but the economic reforms are widely seen as favouring wealthy businessmen while further impoverishing the country's poor.

In his speech, Mubarak said that ordinary people should be the first to feel the benefits of investment and promised to raise salaries and create more jobs.

Amid mounting labour activism, dozens of laid off workers have held regular sit-ins in front of parliament. Three civilians were killed during a workers' riot in the textile city of Mahalla in 2008 when police fired on the crowd.

On the political front, Mubarak faces a restless opposition which fears he is grooming his son Gamal to succeed him.

The country's strongest opposition movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, controls a fifth of the seats in parliament through affiliated MPs although it is officially banned.

The Brotherhood is expected to scale back participation in the parliamentary election after a police crackdown which has targeted senior members.

The secular opposition consists of small, disorganised parties and activists, who have been galvanised by the return of former UN nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei to Egypt to press for reforms.

ElBaradei, who calls for popular action to pressure the government, has said he will run for president only if the constitution, which restricts independent candidates, is amended.