Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi is under mounting pressure to bring rivals into government, as a powerful Islamist party joined calls by the secular opposition for a unity coalition to ease a week of violent protests.
Mursi cut short a visit to Germany yesterday and returned to Egypt, where protesters have been calling for him to quit even as he signaled a retreat on emergency measures imposed on three Suez Canal provinces. Deadly clashes there accounted for most of the more than 50 killed over the past week. Curfews in all three provinces were eased by their governors hours after Mursi granted them authority to revise the measures.
Further protests are planned by the secular opposition tomorrow, raising the possibility of renewed violence. Their call for a new administration to address the crisis won backing from the Salafi Nour Party, an Islamist rival to Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood. “No one group can rule the country on its own” in the current climate, the party said late yesterday.
Mursi’s secular and youth activist critics accuse him of selling short the goals of the revolution to buttress the power of his Muslim Brotherhood backers. The violence, which broke out on the second anniversary of the uprising against Hosni Mubarak, reflects tensions that have built up since Mursi’s election in June, and represents his most serious challenge since then. It’s also eroding hopes for stability in an economy growing at the slowest pace in two decades since the start of the revolution.
Fitch yesterday pushed Egypt’s credit rating deeper into junk status, while Moody’s Investors Service said the unrest adds to credit-negative pressures on the economy. Yields on Egypt’s benchmark dollar bonds yesterday rose the most since Mursi took office. The pound has slid 7.5 percent in the past month.
Many poorer Egyptians blame leaders on both sides for neglecting the economy and focusing on a political struggle that has little relation to their need for jobs and food.
“We’re being torn apart by two sets of groups, neither of which really represent Egypt,” Tamer Hassan, a 29-year-old who has yet to find full-time work, said in Cairo.
The Nour, which had the second largest bloc of seats in the now-dissolved parliament, called for a unity government and a committee to work on constitutional amendments. The demands echo those made by the secular opposition.
Mursi, speaking in Berlin yesterday at a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said he’s committed to “an expanded national discussion that would include all political parties” to revise the constitution, drafted by a mostly Islamist panel and passed in a referendum last month.
He dismissed the other key opposition demand, saying a new government would be formed after parliamentary elections in a few months. Mursi also sought to downplay the crisis at home, saying the upheaval was “natural” in the shift to democracy.
Earlier, Mohamed ElBaradei, one of the leaders of the National Salvation Front, called for an urgent meeting with Mursi, the army and security chiefs and other groups, saying ending the violence was a priority. The call marked a reversal for ElBaradei, who has so far rejected invitations by Mursi, though he stuck to his condition of a unity government for “serious” dialogue to start.
Omar Ashour, a senior lecturer in Middle East studies at the U.K.’s University of Exeter, said ElBaradei and others are playing a “very, very dangerous game” by seeking to bring the military into the discussion.
“The ultimate test for democracy is whether elected civilians are in control of the armed forces and the police or not,” he said. “If not, then it never becomes a democracy.”
Defense Minister Abdelfatah Al-Seesi raised concern about strains on the military with his Jan. 29 warning that political turbulence may lead to “the collapse of the state.” He said it left the army in a “serious predicament,” with dual responsibilities not to interfere in peaceful protests while also protecting state property.
The army, Egypt’s traditional power-broker, ran the country between Mubarak’s fall and Mursi’s election. Troops have been deployed in Suez and Port Said to secure installations including Suez Canal facilities from attack.
As in the last days of Mubarak’s rule, soldiers haven’t enforced the curfews, which have been openly defied by thousands. Frequent attacks on police stations and other government buildings in the emergency-rule areas spread to other provinces. Over 1,000 riot police and officers refused to leave their barracks, demanding they be better armed, the state-run Al-Ahram reported today.
Mursi said in Berlin that the defense minister “was tolling the bell, he wasn’t saying the state is currently collapsing.” Still, he said Egypt is “in a very critical phase that we want to pass through.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Tarek El-Tablawy in Cairo at firstname.lastname@example.org; Patrick Donahue in Berlin at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at firstname.lastname@example.org