Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. AP 311.
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
CAIRO — Egypt's president warned opposition groups Thursday against fomenting "chaos" in the country and challenged them to outline plans to rival his for sustaining growth and development in the Arab world's most populous nation.
Hosni Mubarak's remarks are some of his sharpest yet since near-daily protests have taken hold in the Egyptian capital. The protesters — a mix of reformists and workers — have rallied for greater political freedoms and better wages, arguing that Mubarak's government has provided neither while coddling the wealthy.
Speaking to a gathering of trade unionists, Mubarak lauded the protests as "evidence of the vitality of our society." But he also struck a cautionary tone, saying he fears "that some might slip ... into chaos that would expose Egypt and its sons to setbacks."
The demontrations have come at a critical juncture for Egypt, a key U.S. ally in the Mideast. Parliamentary elections are months away while presidential elections are slated for next year.
It remains unclear if Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt for nearly 30 years, will run again. He has no clear successor and has never appointed a vice president, although many suspect he is grooming his younger son, Gamal, to succeed him.
But calls for reform, spearheaded in part by Mohamed ElBaradei, the former chief of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency, are resonating increasingly loudly in a country where frustration over the political stasis has now been eclipsed by anger that the promised economic reforms enacted over the past five years have yet to trickle down to the country's poor.
Mubarak stressed that the upcoming elections would be "free," and that voters would decide the outcome.
The 82-year-old president, appearing visibly thinner after undergoing
surgery in Germany in March to remove his gall bladder, said his
administration's efforts have been focused on helping the poor break
free from the circle of poverty.
He reiterated that Egypt had largely weathered the global economic
meltdown and was on track for economic growth of about 5.5 percent this
year. That growth, he said, would result in greater job creation.
But in a nation where the World Bank estimates over 40 percent live
below the poverty threshold of $2 per day, the changes have done little
to offset the mounting cost of living.
Mubarak said that the country's masses should be the first to benefit
from the reforms and vowed to continue to work to raise salaries and
safeguard workers' rights.
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