Crisis in Egypt Continues
Mursi faces increasing opposition following a week marked by more deadly violence
CAIRO, Asharq Al-Awsat—Protesters and police in Egypt continue to clash for a fifth day, despite a presidential state of emergency declaration in the three provinces hit hardest by the violence.
Yesterday, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi declared a month-long state of emergency in three cities on the Suez Canal, where dozens of people have been killed in protests that have swept the entire nation and deepened the political crisis facing the Islamist leader.
Hundreds of demonstrators in Port Said, Suez, and Ismailia took to the streets within moments of Morsi’s declaration late on Sunday. Morsi’s announcement came after the death toll from protests and violence last week hit 49.
Most deaths were in Port Said, where 40 people were killed in just two days. Mourners at Sunday’s funerals in the port, where guns are common, turned their rage on Morsi. Riots were sparked on Saturday after a court issued death sentences to several of the city’s inhabitants for their involvement in the deadly soccer violence last year.
In Cairo, police again fired volleys of tear gas at dozens of youths hurling stones early on Monday. Opponents continue to camp on Tahrir Square to protest against Morsi, whom they say betrayed the revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak two years ago.
“We want to bring down the regime and end the state that is run by the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Ibrahim Eissa, a twenty-six-year-old cook, protecting his face from tear gas wafting towards him from police lines near Tahrir, the cauldron of the 2011 revolt.
Propelled to power by the Brotherhood in a June election, Morsi’s presidency has lurched through a series of political crises and violent demonstrations, compounding his task of shoring up a teetering economy and preparing for a parliamentary election to cement the new democracy in a few months.
“The protection of the nation is the responsibility of everyone. We will confront any threat to its security with force and firmness within the remit of the law,” Morsi said, offering condolences to families of victims in the canal zone cities.
Appealing to his opponents, the president called for a national dialogue on Monday evening, inviting a range of Islamist allies as well as liberal, leftist, and other opposition groups and individuals to discuss the crisis.
Meanwhile, the Obama Administration continues to grow weary of the Morsi-led government. Last summer, the White House had hoped to smooth over some of the traditional tensions between Washington and the Brotherhood, a party rooted in opposition to Israel and the US. However, a spate of recent steps—from Brotherhood-led attacks on protesters, to vague protestations of women’s freedoms in the new constitution, to revelations of old comments by Mursi referring to Jews as “bloodsuckers” and “pigs”—has set alarm bells ringing among senior US officials and threatens USD 1bn in American aid to Egypt.
The White House is increasingly concerned about the direction in which the Brotherhood is taking Egypt: “It’s not just about majority rule,” an administration official told the Associated Press. “There are democratic principles that we continue to support.”
Morsi’s anti-Semitic comments, made in separate speeches in 2010 but which surfaced this month on Egyptian TV, also accused Obama of being a liar. They shocked US officials who condemned the comments as counter-productive to American-supported peace efforts in the Middle East. But they surprised few people in Egypt, who have heard Brotherhood officials make similar statements for years.
Morsi struggled to respond to the US backlash following the revelation of his offensive comments. His office issued a statement that committed to upholding religious freedoms and tolerance and condemning violence.
“The president strongly believes that we must respect and indeed celebrate our common humanity, and does not accept or condone derogatory statements regarding any religious or ethnic group,” the statement said. However, it made no mention of Morsi’s comments.
The statement, however, did little to soothe US lawmakers—Democrats and Republicans alike—who have balked at approving the USD 1bn in aid to Egypt that Obama promised in 2011. The aid was intended to help the new government settle an economic crisis that has drained the country’s central bank and devalued the local currency in the revolution’s aftermath.