CAIRO – A vitriolic verbal war for who will rule Egypt played through the night and into the morning as the clock ticked on the 48-hour deadline imposed by the military for the ruling Muslim Brotherhood to strike a deal with its political opposition before late Wednesday afternoon.
In a midnight address, President Mohammed Morsi warned he would defend the legitimacy of the process that elected him a year ago. He scorned the calls by his political opponents for him to step down and the military's demand for an end to the crisis by Wednesday. "If the price of preserving legitimacy is my blood, I am prepared to pay for it," Morsi said in his televised address.
The armed forces appeared to swiftly reject Morsi's speech in a statement posted before sunrise on a Facebook page associated with the Egyptian military. The statement read: "We swear to God that we will sacrifice our blood for Egypt and its people against all terrorists, extremists and ignorant." It was not clear if the words represented a formal comment from the security forces.
Amid the jousting on TV and the internet, fighting erupted Tuesday as Brotherhood members clashed with opponents outside of Cairo University, from where the Brotherhood had gathered for a rally Tuesday afternoon. Brotherhood supporters claimed they had been attacked by mysterious assailants in the fighting that lasted through early Wednesday morning. One Brotherhood member fleeing gunfire shouted at onlookers "amin al-Dawla," the name of the state security apparatus that terrorized them under toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
On Twitter, the Brotherhood accused policemen of participating in the attacks and posted a picture of an alleged police officer in the middle of a crowd of anti-Brotherhood supporters. Another photo showed a man they claimed was a police officer in civilian clothes holding an assault rifle with anti-Brotherhood protestors. The Brotherhood's critics blamed Morsi supporters for the confrontations and posted a video of alleged Brotherhood supporters firing assault rifles near Cairo University and another of them beating police.
Sixteen people died and 200 were wounded, according to the health ministry. The violence could prove a preview of what happens if Morsi and his military and political opponents cannot find away out of their confrontation.
One of Morsi's top Brotherhood allies took to Twitter firing off a call to arms after the president spoke. Ghadad Haddad, Morsi's media advisor, tweeted as Cairo slept: "For those worried for the #MB future or #Morsy's life; both r expendable 4 the sake of saving #Egypt & establishing a sustainable democracy."
Another senior Brotherhood leader Mohammed Beltagy was quoted telling followers: "Say goodbye to your mother, father, and wife, because you will sacrifice your soul to defend Mohammed Morsi's legitimacy."
But at Tahrir Square and by the presidential palace, where Morsi has led the country for a year, his opponents crowded the streets mocking the president's speech with fireworks and carrying little stuffed animal sheep, which they referred to as Brotherhood members. Even one policeman was seen carrying the now obligatory protest poster which reads "Get Out." The policeman, dressed in pressed Navy whites, refused to give his name, but said: "My heart is with the people."