Mursi Urges Egypt Opposition to Cooperate on Reviving Economy

Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi called on the opposition to work alongside the government to stabilize the country, revive the economy and end violence.

The Islamist president said yesterday it is time for the nation to realize the goals of the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak almost two years ago. The new Egypt is a country to be built by all its citizens, said Mursi, 62, 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 upper house of parliament, to which he has assigned legislative authority until parliamentary elections that are likely to start in two months. That voting will test whether Mursi’s Islamist backers, facing a fragmented opposition, can maintain the majority they held under the previous legislature, whose lower house was dissolved earlier in 2012 by a court order.

The remarks, Mursi’s first before parliament since his June election, came at a point when the president has “lost a lot of his legitimacy,” Khalil al-Anani, a political analyst at Durham University in the U.K., said by phone beforehand. Mursi so far hasn’t provided “any real concessions to pacify the opposition or push the process of democratization forward,” he said.

Mursi said an almost 60 percent decline in foreign reserves -- to about $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 push economic growth from last year’s 19-year low.

Foreign-Currency Auction

Egypt’s central bank today will start foreign-exchange auctions in order to help preserve currency reserves.

“It is now time for us to work toward the advancement of the Egyptian people as whole,” Mursi 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’s comments were a response to the polarization exposed by the passage of the nation’s new constitution last week. That was one of the factors that 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 said it is not the first time Egypt’s rating has been downgraded and talk of its bankruptcy is without merit.

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

Constitution

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 earlier this month. 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 yesterday, 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.

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

Opposition

The opposition, comprised of a mix of secularists, minority Christians and youth activists, has so far rejected calls for dialog. 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 yesterday.

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.”

Two of Mursi’s cabinet ministers resigned last 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.

The Egyptian government intends to invite IMF officials back to the country in January to discuss the loan, Finance Minister Momtaz el-Saieed said in a phone interview yesterday.

“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.

To contact the reporters on this story: Tarek El-Tablawy in Cairo at teltablawy@bloomberg.net; Deema Almashabi in Riyadh at dalmashabi@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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