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Egypt: Morsi Rejects Calls To Step Aside As Protests Build

NPR icon by Mark Memmott
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Mohamed Abd El Ghany

As Egyptians gathered Sunday in Cairo and other cities for what are expected to be the largest protests so far against the year-old government of President Mohammed Morsi, some in the streets were telling NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson that they expect he will be toppled in much the same way as President Hosni Mubarak was in February 2011.

One protester told Soraya that Morsi is a "wounded lion in a corner ... if he attacks us, he loses ... if he doesn't attack us, he loses."

At midday in Cairo, Soraya said on Weekend Edition Sunday, things were peaceful. But there were concerns that pro-Morsi Egyptians might clash with the protesters later in the day. Many eyes, she said, are on the Egyptian army. Its leaders have said they will "protect the will of the people." Protesters say that means the army will defend them, as it did at times during the Arab Spring protests against Mubarak. But Morsi's supporters say it means the army will stand up for the democratically elected president.

As for Morsi, he's told The Guardian that he will not accede to demands that he step down or call a new election. "If we changed someone in office who [was elected] according to constitutional legitimacy — well, there will people or opponents opposing the new president too, and a week or a month later, they will ask him to step down," Morsi said.

Soraya explained Saturday that much of the discontent about the president stems from the country's deep economic problems. "Gasoline at the moment is very hard to come by," she said. "It's about four dollars a gallon, if you can even find it. Food prices have gone up, so has cooking gas and everything else. So, there's been no relief for the people, which is what they seeking since toppling President Mubarak two years ago."

The protests turned deadly on Friday. At least three people were killed in Alexandria, including Kenyon College student Andrew Pochter, 21, from Chevy Chase, Md. Another four people have reportedly also died in recent clashes.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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