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Deadline Looms for Morsi to Resolve Standoff With Opposition

July 2, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
As the deadline set by Egypt's armed forces nears, massive street demonstrations show no signs of subsiding. Gwen Ifill talks with Nancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers in Cairo about violence between pro- and anti-Morsi factions and how finding a workable political resolution for Egypt could prove very difficult.
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GWEN IFILL: For more, I’m joined by Nancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers in Cairo.

Nancy, this is unfolding even as we speak, the speech. We also heard via Twitter this afternoon that President Morsi said he is not going to give into this ultimatum by the military. What is the health of his regime tonight?

NANCY YOUSSEF, McClatchy Newspapers: Well, as you mentioned earlier, at least five of his ministers resigned, two government spokesmen, a cabinet spokesman, and the streets are as packed as they were yesterday and the day before. And it shows no signs of subsiding.

Tomorrow at 4:00 p.m., the army deadline will be here. And we expect that the burden will fall on the military to resolve this impasse, which, from Morsi’s speech so far, he’s not giving up any ground to the opposition. He’s blaming remnants. He’s blaming corruption. He’s calling himself the legitimate leader. And while he asks for more time, he hasn’t laid out any specifics about how he’s going to address the needs and the demands of literally hundreds of thousands of people currently on the streets.

GWEN IFILL: Nancy, we can hear those hundreds of thousands of people behind you even as you’re speaking to us tonight. I wonder what they are telling you when you go to the square and you observe this close up. What are people saying?

NANCY YOUSSEF: Well, it’s interesting because there are certain things that they agree on, which is that Morsi should no longer be the president, even though he was democratically elected just 367 days ago, and his Muslim Brotherhood, the party through which he ascended to the presidency, should no longer have the grip on Egyptian political, economic and even in a sense identity that it does right now.

And after that, there’s no clear answer from the opposition. There are people who are saying there should be an early presidential election. There are people who are saying the army should take over for a period of six months, one year. I talked to a man today who said they should be in charge for three years. There are people who are saying there should be a referendum on the constitution and a new constitutional committee put together.

And it’s that variety of responses from the opposition that makes finding a resolution to this very difficult. Even in the best-case scenario, that there’s some compromise which is reached by tomorrow, it doesn’t look like the sort of core issues will be resolved. There will always be people who are opposed to Morsi and who are looking for a different kind of representation from the opposition than they get.

GWEN IFILL: But surely there is the presence of some pro-Morsi forces in Tahrir or elsewhere today?

NANCY YOUSSEF: No. Yes.

Right, they don’t — what’s interesting is the pro- and anti-Morsi rallies try to stay away from each other because when they do meet, it ends violently. I was caught in a gunfire today in Giza, a district very close to here, in which the pro-Morsi rally had started and residents allegedly shot at the pro-Morsi rally. And it erupted into street fights and gunfights.

It turned violent very quickly. And so there is a concerted effort by both sides to sort of stay apart. That said, when you go to the biggest anti — or excuse me — pro-Morsi rally in Rabaa, which is in the western part of the city, they’re marching. They’re forming sort of platoon-sized military units with — I guess you could call them combat exercises.

Some are wearing life vests to serve as bulletproof vests for the rubber bullets while wearing construction hats and marching in formation wearing flip-flops and carrying sticks. And they’re trying to show that they’re prepared to defend their president. And some see it as an Islamic mission. I heard over and over again at the pro-Morsi rally that they were prepared to martyr themselves in defense of this president, that the defense of this presidency and the defense of their faith were tied together.

GWEN IFILL: Now, we know that President Obama called President Morsi last night and that Secretary of State John Kerry has been in touch with leaders as well.

Is the U.S. perceived to be kind of at a rock and a hard place on this? They supported Morsi’s election, democratic election. And now they apparently are suggesting that he should listen to the people in the streets.

NANCY YOUSSEF: Well, it depends on who you ask.

Anne Patterson, who is U.S. ambassador here, had said last week that she didn’t think that protest was the way to bring about a solution, that it was to be brought about politically. And a lot of opponents were angry about this. And we started to see people burning pictures of her in the square. But I have to tell you in the last couple days, you don’t hear as much about the United States.

Some people will say that the United States is going to make sure that Morsi stays in power. That’s one of the sort of conspiracy theories amongst the opponents. But the American role here is really quite ancillary, that this is really an Egyptian-led movement and about finding Egyptian solutions. And there’s not an effort by either side to turn to the United States as a broker in this political stalemate.

GWEN IFILL: And is there any concern among Egyptians that whatever happens to Morsi, that they might be taking a turn away from their hard-won democracy?

NANCY YOUSSEF: There are, because since Hosni Mubarak, who served here for three decades, resigned, Egypt has been led by a military council for 18 months and now Morsi for a year. This persistent sort of change of power isn’t seen as bringing about the core things that people say they want, better security, better economic situation for themselves personally and nationally, that this repeated turnover cannot bring about those very core things.

And so when you talk to people, particularly those who support Morsi, they argue that. At the same time, Morsi is such a divisive figure. He has treated the presidency from the opposition’s perspective as that he only has one moment of accountability, and that was on election day, and that those who oppose him can speak up again in four years from now and not before that.

And it’s that friction between what constitutes public accountability. What should be public — what should a president be publicly accountable for? And it’s that division. I don’t think Egyptians want to see this repeated turnover, but at the same time, what we’re hearing on the streets is they want to be heard and not to be excluded in the political process.

GWEN IFILL: Nancy, Nancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers in Cairo for us tonight, thank you so much, Nancy.

NANCY YOUSSEF: Thank you.