The Egyptian army's deadline for President Mohammed Morsi to make a political compromise or face a military intervention is drawing near. However, the president has said he has no intention of stepping down.
Mohammed Morsi delivered a late night speech on Egyptian television saying that he would not resign and that doing so would threaten Egypt's constitutional legitimacy. He made no direct mention of an army ultimatum to accept "the people's demands" by Wednesday evening or face an imposed solution, but a separate post on his official Twitter account said that the military should backtrack.
"President Morsi insists on [his] constitutional legitimacy and rejects any attempt to overstep it," the message said. "[He] calls on the armed forces to withdraw their warning and rejects any dictates, domestic or foreign."
In his 45-minute televised speech, where the he often raised his voice or pounded the podium with his fist, Morsi said his office stood for constitutional legitimacy, calling this "the only guarantee against violence."
"The people chose me," Morsi said. "The people designated me through free, clean elections." The president also said he was willing to "give my life" for the sake of Egypt's stability. The Islamist leader was elected in a close runoff with 51.7 percent of the vote last June, becoming the country's first democratically-elected president. Morsi also said that any attempt to remove him from office would "backfire on its perpetrators."
The opposition Tamarod movement, which organized mass protests on Sunday described by the army as the largest in Egyptian history, said the speech amounted to a threat.
"This is a president threatening his own people," Mohammed Abdelaziz, a leader of the Tamarod campaign, told an Egyptian television channel. "We don't consider him the president of Egypt."
Clashes continue, mainly in Cairo
For a third consecutive day, thousands of Egyptians took to the streets both to support and oppose the president.
In the early hours of Wednesday morning, Egypt's health ministry said that unidentified gunmen had killed 16 Morsi supporters and injured 200 more at a rally supporting the president outside Cairo University.
This followed several news agency reports, citing medics, of seven deaths in the unrest on Tuesday. As with the public protests that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak during the 2011 revolution, demonstrations in the capital Cairo have focused heavily on the central Tahrir Square. Some protesters at the square began chanting "leave, leave" at the end of Morsi's speech late on Tuesday.
The Egyptian army on Monday gave Morsi 48 hours to reach a compromise deal with the opposition or face an imposed military solution. Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood called the announcement a coup, a charge rejected by the army.
The military has since released details of its "road map" in the event of intervention, saying it would suspend the country's constitution - narrowly approved in a December referendum - dissolve parliament and set up an interim government led by the country's chief justice. The plans to usher in fresh elections were released first to Egypt's state news agency.
msh/dr (AFP, AP, dpa)