Confrontation brews in Egypt as 23 reportedly die in protests

CAIROHis fate hanging in the balance, embattled President Mohammed Morsi vowed not to resign Tuesday, hours before a deadline to yield to the demands of millions of protesters or see the military suspend the constitution, disband parliament and install a new leadership.

The Islamist leader demanded that the powerful armed forces withdraw their ultimatum, saying he rejected all "dictates" — from home or abroad. Outside on the streets, the sense that both sides are ready to fight to the end sharpened, with clashes between his supporters and opponents. Officials told The Associated Press the violence left at least 23 dead, most of them in a single incident of fighting outside Cairo University.

In an emotional speech aired live to the nation, Morsi, who a year ago was inaugurated as Egypt's first freely elected president, pledged to protect his "constitutional legitimacy" with his life. He accused loyalists of his ousted autocratic predecessor Hosni Mubarak of exploiting the wave of protests to topple his regime and thwart democracy.

Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi addresses his country on Egyptian television July 2, 2013, amid widespread protests and an ultimatum recently given by the military.
Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi addresses his country on Egyptian television July 2, 2013.
CBS News

"There is no substitute for legitimacy," said Morsi, who at times angrily raised his voice, thrust his fist in the air and pounded the podium. He warned that electoral and constitutional legitimacy "is the only guarantee against violence."

Morsi's defiant statement showed that he and his Muslim Brotherhood are prepared to run the risk of challenging the army. It also entrenches the lines of confrontation between his Islamist supporters and Egyptians angry over what they see as his efforts to impose control by his Muslim Brotherhood and his failures to deal with the country's multiple problems.

Gehad al-Haddad, a senior Muslim Brotherhood spokesman, told CBS News' Alex Ortiz the military's threat has changed the game.

"I think it's a coup," al-Haddad said.

Al-Haddad called the threat "completely unacceptable," but added that his organization will not be caught off-guard if the military makes good on its threat.

"We are shifting our tactics," al-Haddad said. "We have had a scenario for this for some time. If military moves on the ground we have a plan for that."

While the army has refused to call their plans a coup, CBS News correspondent Clarissa Ward reports, retired Gen. Sameh Elyazal was clear about the need for immediate change.

Elyazal told Ward that technically, Morsi has the right to finish his term because he was democratically elected. "But you want me to wait until we see our country completely collapsed?" he said. "In the first year, he did many mistakes. Look at the economy in Egypt. I am running with my pistol in my back, why, because the streets of Egypt are not safe.

The crisis has become a struggle over whether a popular uprising can overturn the verdict of the ballot box. Morsi's opponents say he has lost his legitimacy through mistakes and power grabs and that their turnout on the streets over the past three days shows the nation has turned against him.

For a third day Tuesday, millions of jubilant, chanting Morsi opponents filled Cairo's historic Tahrir Square, as well as avenues adjacent to two presidential palaces in the capital, and main squares in cities nationwide. After Morsi's speech, they erupted in indignation, banging metal fences to raise a din, some raising their shoes in the air in a show of contempt. "Leave, leave," they chanted.

Morsi "doesn't understand. He will take us toward bloodshed and civil war," said Islam Musbah, a 28-year-old protester sitting on the sidewalk outside the Ittihadiya palace, dejectedly resting his head on his hand.

The president's supporters also moved out in increased marches in Cairo and other cities. Morsi's supporters have stepped up warnings that it will take bloodshed to dislodge him. While Morsi has stuck to a stance that he is defending democracy in Egypt, many of his Islamist backers have presented the fight as one to protect Islam.

"Seeking martyrdom to prevent the ongoing coup is what we can offer as a sign of gratitude to previous martyrs who died in the revolution," Brotherhood stalwart Mohammed el-Beltagy wrote Tuesday in his official Facebook page.

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