Morsi: ‘I won’t tolerate anyone working to overthrow a legitimate government’
The president’s speech, which was aimed at restoring stability in the country, has ignited a new escalation in violence.
Several thousand anti-government protesters have stormed the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood, breaking windows and furniture and setting the building on fire.
Protesters also reportedly torched, stormed and looted several Cairo offices of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Police used tear gas to disperse the demonstrators, who responded with stones and Molotov cocktails. While tensions remain high, additional security personnel were deployed to the epicenter of the clashes.
Unknown men attack the Muslim Brotherhood's headquarter and try to to set it on fire on December 6, 2012.(Reuters / Stringer)
“I separate the legitimate opposition from the vandals who committed violence,” Morsi told the nation. “The opposition thinks Article 6 is a problem. I won’t insist on keeping it, and anyway, the decree ends after the referendum.”
Morsi said he will form a new assembly to write the constitution if the current draft is rejected by the referendum.
Morsi mourned those who died in front of the presidential palace, saying his "heart is bleeding for the loss of innocent lives."
"I feel responsible for the riots in Egypt," he said. "My fellow citizens are one body that cannot be separated or torn apart."
Riot police form a line as protesters against Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi storm the Muslim Brotherhood's headquarters in Cairo December 6, 2012.(Reuters / Stringer)
The Egyptian president also attacked those who he says are serving the remnants of the Mubarak regime and trying to bring down the government. He said the reason behind the constitutional declaration was to protect Egypt from such conspiracies.
“These people became rich through the ex-regime and are now spending their fortunes to burn our homeland,” Morsi said, claiming that some of those arrested during the clashes outside the presidential palace have links with opposition parties, while others were paid to add heat to the conflict.
“The ex-regime will not come back again, ever,” Morsi stated.
The president has called for a Saturday meeting with the opposition to defuse the crisis, which he says can only be resolved through dialogue.
However, the April 6 group, a leading Egyptian pro-democracy movement which was in the forefront of the revolt against Hosni Mubarak, has rejected Morsi's call for dialogue, saying it would continue protests against the president.
Members of the Republican Guard block a road leading to the presidential palace as anti-Mursi protesters gather in front of barbed wire barricades in Cairo December 6, 2012.(Reuters / Amr Dalsh)
Protesters against Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi attack the Muslim Brotherhood's headquarters after starting a fire inside the compound in Cairo December 6, 2012.(Reuters / Stringer)
Although Mohamed Morsi has promised to give up his sweeping powers after a new constitution is in place, the Egyptian president is not likely to practice what he preaches, Walid Phares, a counter-terrorism adviser to the US Congress told RT.
“It is all in the book of how the Muslim Brotherhood has made statements in the beginning of the Arab spring in Egypt,” Phares explained. “For example, the Muslim Brotherhood said that they are not going to go to Tahrir square, they are going to allow the youth to go. Then they went. That they are not going to run for more than 30 per cent of the parliament. Then they ran massively. That Mr. Morsi himself said that he’s not going to run for president.”
“This is called a phased strategy,” Phares added. “They move to one position, consolidate, then move to the next one. So basically once he has a referendum on the constitution there is no reason except his own to say ‘I’m not going to use this power.’”
Anti-Mursi protesters shout slogans and scuffle with members of the Republican Guard in front of barricades around a road leading to the presidential palace in Cairo December 6, 2012.(Reuters / Amr Dalsh)
Morsi's address follows a wave of heavy clashes beginning on Tuesday between his supporters and opponents, in which at least seven people have been killed and over 640 injured.
A curfew has been introduced in Cairo after the country's military moved in tanks and armored troop carriers to quash the violence in the capital. Several tanks are guarding the presidential palace.
The recent wave of street violence is the worst in Egypt following Morsi's November 22 move to vastly expand his powers.
Protesters against Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi gather in front of the Muslim Brotherhood's headquarters after starting a fire inside the compound in Cairo December 6, 2012.(Reuters / Stringer Egypt)
Riot police form a line as protesters against Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi stormed and started a fire at the Muslim Brotherhood's headquarters in Cairo December 6, 2012.(Reuters / Stringer Egypt)