CAIRO — Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi Wednesday addressed his nation ahead of major demonstrations both for and against his rule. Analysts say the speech is unlikely to bridge the divides roiling the country.
It was not the conciliatory gesture that some in a nation on edge had hoped for.
President Morsi Wednesday night mocked his rivals, accused members of the judiciary of corruption and blamed the nation's problems largely on the former government and its supporters, whom he says are trying to undo the revolution that took them from power.
He did acknowledge that in his first year in power, he had made mistakes that must be corrected.
Speaking before an invited audience in Cairo, Morsi said Egypt needs quick and deep reforms in order to get back on the right track.
Morsi also acknowledged what he called a "patriotic opposition." But he criticized by name opponents from the previous government, current opposition, the media and the business world.
Morsi said the opposition ignored the basic principles of democracy and called the government illegitimate instead of taking part in the process. He urged them instead to take part in upcoming parliamentary elections.
The president accused those he called the enemies of Egypt of sparing no effort to sabotage "the democratic experience." And he blamed the protests that have occurred since he took power for hurting the economy and forcing the government to look for outside help.
Egypt is bracing for what many believe will be the biggest round of protests since Morsi took office last June, as well as counterdemonstrations by his Islamist supporters.
Deadly street fighting broke out just hours ahead of the speech in Mansoura, in the Nile Delta, and crowds were gathering in other cities and towns.
Egyptian authorities have been ramping up security across the country, with police and army personnel on high alert.
Citizens are stocking up on cash, food and other supplies fearing disruptions in the coming days. The usual long lines for limited gasoline now stretch for a kilometer or more. President Morsi apologized for the lines, blaming them on corruption and black market dealings.
Opponents, mainly nationalist, secular and liberal groups, are calling for Morsi to step down. They argue he has lost legitimacy and divided the country while worsening the daily lives of ordinary Egyptians.
The president's supporters, most from the Muslim Brotherhood and more conservative Islamist groups, say Morsi must be allowed to serve out his full term. Extremists have threatened violence against the protesters.
Mohamed Abdel Aziz is the spokesman for the June 30 Front, a newly formed coalition of opposition groups.
He says peaceful protests are needed to fulfill the goals of the revolution and rejected any attempts to "terrorize" the Egyptian people by the government or its allies. He adding a warning to everyone against any attempts to lead the country into chaos.
The movement began with a petition drive by the Tamarod, or Rebel, campaign to show a lack of confidence in Morsi. Members say they have the signatures of more than 15 million, exceeding the number of votes cast for Morsi last year.
Mai Wahba, who heads Tamarod's media office, cites the president's failure to fulfill any of the promises he made for his first 100 days in office. She also describes his adoption of extraordinary powers for several weeks last year as “a breach of contract” with the Egyptian people.
In his speech Wednesday night, President Morsi tried to highlight his achievements, including a rise in the minimum wage. And after singling out so many opponents by name, he offered to set up a reconciliation committee so that all parties could talk freely.
But as one opponent wrote on Twitter as Morsi's lengthy speech neared its end, he "seems to have decided the best way to fight fire is with gasoline."