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updated: 12/29/2012 11:11 AM

Egypt's Mursi says unity imperative for stability and economy

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  • Mohammed Morsi addresses the newly convened upper house of parliament in Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, Dec. 29. Egypt's Islamist president warned against any unrest that could harm the drive to repair the country's battered economy in his first address before the newly convened upper house of parliament, urging the opposition to work with his government.

      Mohammed Morsi addresses the newly convened upper house of parliament in Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, Dec. 29. Egypt's Islamist president warned against any unrest that could harm the drive to repair the country's battered economy in his first address before the newly convened upper house of parliament, urging the opposition to work with his government.
    Associated Press

 
Bloomberg

Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi called on the opposition to work alongside the government to stabilize the country and revive the economy, saying all must take stock of the nation's needs and renounce violence.

The Islamist president, in a speech before the parliament's upper house, said it is time for the country to restart production and realize the goals of the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak.

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The new Egypt is a nation to be built by all its citizens, Mursi said, adding that violence of any sort, whether from groups, individuals or even the government, was "totally rejected."

The speech was Mursi's first before the newly-empowered parliament's upper house, to which he had passed on legislative power until new parliamentary elections that are expected to start in two months. The elections may serve as a key test for whether Mursi's Islamist backers, facing a fragmented opposition, can maintain the solid majority they held under the previous parliament, whose lower house was dissolved earlier in the year under court order.

Mursi's call for greater cooperation and a halt to the unrest comes after deepening polarization surfaced over the constitution and led Standard & Poor's on Dec. 24 to cut the country's credit rating, moving it deeper into junk status. Three days after S&P's cut, the Egyptian pound slid to an eight- year low.

Mursi, 62, said it is not the first time Egypt's rating has been downgraded and talk of its bankruptcy is without merit.

Bankruptcy Talk

"You who speak of bankruptcy," he said, "are the ones that are bankrupt."

Mursi's opponents and his Islamist backers clashed in the weeks preceding passage of constitution, which was approved by a majority of 64 percent in a two-stage referendum. The Islamists said it was necessary to push through the constitution to revive the economy while the opposition argued it further enshrined Islamic law at the expense of freedoms and did not represent the nation's interests as a whole.

Mursi sought again to allay those concerns, saying that all are equal under the law and the coming period is one that demands unity and cooperation in a climate of accountability and transparency imperative for a new democracy.

The speech, his first before parliament since his June election, comes as Mursi has "lost a lot of his legitimacy," Khalil al-Anani, a political analyst at Durham University in the U.K., said by phone before the address. Mursi so far hasn't provided "any real concessions to pacify the opposition or push the process of democratization forward," he said.

Economic Challenges

Mursi today discussed the country's economic challenges and said an almost 60 percent decline in foreign reserves -- to around $15 billion -- isn't acceptable. Gains in some sectors such as tourism have been hurt by the latest unrest, he said. The government, which he said is operating under "very difficult circumstances," has been able to pry economic growth from last year's 19-year low.

"It is now time for us to work toward the advancement of the Egyptian people as whole," he said. "There is no room for tyranny, discrimination or the absence of social justice. Regardless of the differences, all citizens are equal before the law and under this constitution."

Mursi, a U.S.-trained engineer who was backed by the Muslim Brotherhood for the presidency, called on the parliament's upper house to work on legislation that is needed for the coming period.

Parliamentary Powers

The upper house, including 90 new members who were appointed by Mursi, will hold temporary legislative powers until the new parliament is elected. Until now, the Shura Council, as it is known, has been a consultative entity.

The opposition, comprised of a mix of secularists, minority Christians and youth activists, has so far rejected calls for dialogue. Some groups have set Jan. 25, the second anniversary of the start of the uprising, as a date to overturn the new charter. The National Salvation Front, an umbrella group of opposition parties, rejected the president's call to attend the speech, Al-Jazeera reported today.

The country's top prosecutor has announced an investigation into opposition leaders Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel laureate, and former presidential candidates Amre Moussa and Hamdeen Sabahi on allegations of inciting to overthrow the government.

ElBaradei, the former UN nuclear watchdog agency head, said on his Twitter account that it was as if the "revolution never happened and a regime had not fallen."

Resignations

Two of Mursi's Cabinet ministers resigned earlier this week amid the dispute about the constitution. The president called on his premier to change the government as needed to address the coming challenges.

Egypt asked the International Monetary Fund to delay a $4.8 billion loan agreement, originally planned for this month, and has said it would initiate a public debate about planned tax increases. Fitch Ratings said on Dec. 27 it would become "more concerned" about dwindling foreign reserves if the deal is delayed beyond January.

"Egypt, God willing, will never go bankrupt and will not kneel down as long as the people remain present and aware of what should be done no matter what," Mursi said.

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