On Thursday, December 6, 2012, late in the evening, Mohamed Morsi finally addressed the Egyptian nation to speak about the political crisis his constitutional decree sparked and about the violent clashes between his supporters and opponents.
Morsi’s speech was remarkable for its incredibly narrow vision of democracy and for revealing the president’s deafness to the anger his constitutional decree had caused.
The speech was pre-recorded and aired on Egyptian state television. In the backdrop, the state seal with its military eagle and the flag hanging to Morsi’s right evoked memories of Hosni Mubarak’s address nearly two years ago to a heaving and angry nation.
The decision to mimic this scene (or the complete ignorance of parallels to it) is bizarre. Perhaps Morsi wanted to channel the solemnity of his position, drawing on Egypt’s rich tradition of presidential oration started by Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Morsi attempted to rise above the chaos of the moment, calling for national dialogue and making clear he would not rescind the decree. He called on Egyptians to act reasonably and condemned the destruction of public and private property, the halting of traffic, and the attempts by “infiltrators” to overthrow the will of the people.
This last statement referred to calls for his ouster. While hearing the peoples’ voice at the ballot box, Morsi seemed to delegitimize the voices of those protesting his consolidation of power and the rushed constitutional referendum. At one point in his speech, Morsi asked: does not democracy mean that the minority should accept the will of the majority?
Mustering all of his bluster, Morsi warned of the “tarf al-talath,” the third party in literal translation, that is using “their corrupt money to support crime.” According to Morsi, these people have hired and armed thugs, and have been behind the massacres at Maspero, Mohamad Mahmoud, Maglis al-Wazira, and Port Said.
This is a heart-wrenching claim. Either the president of Egypt truly believes, despite video evidence and eye-witness testimonies, that some foreign or corrupt faction has incited and funded these horrible incidents of violence, or he is lying.
Once again, the nation holds its breadth in anticipation of more violence. The political opposition, united behind Mohamad el-Baradei, has called for the president to rescind his decree and postpone the constitutional referendum. For his part, Morsi invited all political parties, legal experts, revolutionary youth, and major organizations to join him to discuss a way forward at the presidential palace on December 8, 2012.
The question is, can Morsi lead the way for Egypt out of this zero-sum game? Unfortunately, it does not likely.