Yesterday, continuing mass protests in front of the Presidential Palace (seen above) erupted into violence that left at least six people dead. In an effort to defuse the unrest, President Morsi made a speech tonight:
[He] announced a meeting to take place Saturday with the opposition. He blamed the violence on paid agents of unnamed forces wishing to destroy the country. He said an investigation was under way to bring those forces to justice. He warned against further violent unrest, saying it would not be tolerated. He listed numerous targets that must not be attacked, including government buildings and institutions. The list of verboten behavior included, to the mirth of many listeners, blocking traffic. He said the referendum on the constitution would proceed as planned. He seemed willing to discuss his decree of unchecked power – but he defended it as part of his duty as president to defend Egypt’s “sovereignty.”
Max Fisher goes over the speech and notes the similarity to previous speeches by Mubarak, as well as the implied threat of violence. Fisher believes things are about to get worse:
After all the harsh words, mutual mistrust, and clear antagonism between Morsi and his supporters versus the opposition and theirs, it’s difficult to see the two sides coming to an accord in only two days’ time. It could happen, but would probably require Morsi to open with significant concessions. If the Dec. 8 dialogue falls through, with the constitutional referendum only a week away, then both the opposition and Morsi may see cause to escalate even further as the vote nears.
Jack Shenker thinks Morsi is just another in the long line of Egyptian autocrats:
Opposition, be it official or on the street, is viewed [by Morsi] as a conspiratorial enemy to be blitzed, not a legitimate element of political life. For evidence just look at the draft constitution, not the content (though that is alarming enough) but the process. Written almost exclusively by old, Islamist men, the document is now being rammed through via the ousting of dissenting voices and Morsi’s unilateral constitutional decree that puts a metaphorical gun to the heads of the electorate: vote yes to my constitution, or reaffirm my extra-judicial dictatorship.
The Egyptian army has already stepped in once to try and steer the ship of the state on a temporary basis. The logic in doing so at the time was in many ways justifiable, and while the results were less than ideal, it was a popular move with many Egyptians who saw no good alternative. This time, however, if the army gets in the middle of the various parties and tries to intervene and sort things out, the long term results will be even more disastrous. Creating a pattern in which the military is expected to act as a referee and step in any time things get hairy will doom any hope for civilian rule or the semblance of democratic politics in Egypt.