CAIRO – CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's president cautioned that street protests and calls for change could endanger the country's future, in his first public speech since recovering from surgery in Germany.
President Hosni Mubarak's speech dominated the press Sunday, which showed photos of the 81-year-old president presiding over a military parade in the canal city of Ismailia.
"Such exchanges and liveliness should never turn into confrontations, fighting or conflict. We must all be careful that the desired competition doesn't ...throw the future of the nation and its people to the wind," he said in his televised speech Saturday.
Ruling party lawmakers caused an uproar when they called on the police to open fire on demonstrators.
Mubarak underwent gallbladder surgery and removed a growth in the small intestine in Germany last month. He returned to Egypt late March, and has been recuperating in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik since.
Much of the current political agitation in Egypt erupted in the wake of Mubarak's sudden illness and three week absence. He has yet to return to Cairo.
Parliamentary elections are scheduled for this fall, while presidential elections are due in late 2011.
Mubarak, who has ruled the country for nearly three decades, hinted that no major changes are expected soon and he took credit for allowing the current calls for reform.
"The active social interplay in Egypt today is a result of what I initiated five years ago. It is proof of Egyptians' vitality, and a witness to the unprecedented space for freedom of expression, opinion and media," he said.
"I say honestly and sincerely I welcome all this social commotion and interaction, so long as they abide by the constitution and law," he added.
Opposition groups calling for change say constitutional reforms introduced by Mubarak over the past few years to ostensibly allow competitive presidential elections actually limit those eligible to run to the president's son and a few members of the ruling party.
Egypt's political scene has been roiled by rising dissatisfaction over economic woes and numerous labor strikes, and now political demands for change have found a new impetus when former UN nuclear chief and Egyptian diplomat Mohammed ElBaradei returned to Egypt this year.
Pro-reform groups rallied around ElBaradei urging him to run for president. He, in turn, has made constitutional reforms to open up the political system the centerpiece of his campaign.
Mubarak, however, warned that change can't be made through "uncalculated steps" or through "slogans ... and posturing."
He also said that the upcoming elections would "free," prompting opposition papers to speculate he may be running for next year's presidential elections.