CAIRO — In a defiant and at times lumbering speech ahead of planned anti-government protests, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi told Egyptians on Wednesday night that he had made mistakes during his first year in office, but he blamed his opponents for the bulk of the nation’s problems.
Morsi delivered the televised speech as Egypt braced for nationwide demonstrations on Sunday that will mark the first anniversary of the Islamist president’s tenure, and many here fear the protests could spiral into violence. Opposition groups are calling for Morsi’s ouster amid a rising tide of frustration over a deepening economic crisis and growing insecurity.
In a nearly three-hour speech, Morsi called out adversaries by name — including officials associated with the regime of ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak, current government officials, a judge and a television executive. He accused the media of spreading false information and promised to “cut” and “stop” enemies of the state, who he said were trying to undermine Egypt’s young democratic process.
Egyptians watching the speech said it was unlikely to quell the demonstrations.
“The people are tired and they’re fed up,” said Rifaat Hosni, a cafe owner who watched the speech wearily from his desk. “Everyone is even more angry now.”
On Wednesday, some demonstrators had gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and outside the nation’s Defense Ministry, home to the military, which some Egyptians say they hope will take the reins of power from Morsi. Egypt’s defense minister signaled last weekend that the military would be prepared to intervene if violence spins out of control.
“Army, come down and take back our country,” read one banner that hung above traffic a few yards from the ministry’s gate.
Clashes broke out between Morsi’s supporters and opponents in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura earlier Wednesday, leaving two people dead and more than 200 injured, according to the state news service.
Opposition to Morsi, a former senior leader with the Muslim Brotherhood, has created bitter rifts in Egyptian society over the past six months. His Islamist backers have labeled an opposition movement born from the liberal elite, among them Mubarak loyalists, as sore losers in a democratic process. Each side accused the other of trying to monopolize power at the behest of foreign backers.
But as economic woes rise, frustration with Morsi has steadily seeped into a wider cross-section of Egyptian society. Morsi’s approval rating has dropped from 78 percent after his first 100 days in office to 42 percent last month, according to Baseera, an Egyptian research institution.
Gas lines have snaked around city blocks in recent days amid a mounting fuel shortage. Frustrated citizens screamed at one another on Wednesday as they waited in the June heat. Many blamed Morsi.
“I’m going to protest on Sunday at Ittihadiya,” Egypt’s presidential palace, said Khaled Abdel Nasser, a taxi driver who had waited for five hours for gas. “Everyone is going to Ittihadiya.”
On Wednesday, Morsi blamed graft and conspiracies for Egypt’s fuel crisis.
“A huge part of this crisis is made up. Behind it are networks of corruption,” he said.
Morsi rattled off numbers in a confusing explanation of the nation’s debt and detailed what he described as the corrupt and treasonous dealings of his foes.
“He does not understand the magnitude of the public anger against his rule,” Khaled Ali, an opposition leader and former presidential candidate, wrote on Twitter when the speech concluded after midnight.
Fear is growing that the demonstrations will devolve into clashes between Morsi’s supporters and opponents. Some Islamists have called the protests un-Islamic and vowed to protect the presidential palace.
Morsi pledged Wednesday to deploy a special security unit to crack down on “thuggery” and people “blocking roads” and “attacking state institutions.”
Secretary of State John F. Kerry expressed worry about Egypt on Wednesday.
“It’s fair to say that everybody is very concerned,” Kerry told reporters in Kuwait. “Our hopes are that all parties, everybody, whether it’s the demonstrations on Friday or demonstrations on Sunday, will all engage in peaceful, free expression of their points of view but not engage in violence,” he added.
The United States has been mired in diplomatic challenges in Egypt since the 2011 uprising that toppled Mubarak. It has struggled to balance support for the nascent democracy that brought Morsi to power while simultaneously reassuring Egypt’s neighbor Israel, as well as Egyptian liberals and Christians who say they have been marginalized by the country’s new Islamist leadership.
Anti-American conspiracy theories buzzed in the local news media and through crowds of protesters on Wednesday. Some cited a widely circulated video of U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson leaving the office of a top Muslim Brotherhood official as evidence of a U.S.-Brotherhood conspiracy.
“Tell the American ambassador to stay away from Egypt,” Sayed al-Rifai, a contractor, shouted in Tahrir Square. A nearby banner read: “Obama supports dictator Morsi.”
Karen DeYoung in Kuwait City and Sharaf al-Hourani in Cairo contributed to this report.