Egyptians rallied against President Mohamed Mursi to mark the second anniversary of his predecessor’s ouster, in a show of force that could precipitate more violence.
Security forces beefed up their presence outside the presidential complex in anticipation of marches descending on the area on the second anniversary of Hosni Mubarak’s departure, the state-run Middle East News agency said. Dozens of protesters temporarily blocked the 6th of October bridge spanning the Nile in central Cairo, chanting slogans against Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood, it said.
An opposition coalition including the Egyptian Popular Current, one of the groups planning marches today, said Mursi “has broken a record in lying and breaking promises.” Another group, the April 6 youth movement, organized a march from the stock exchange to Tahrir Square.
The protests build on weeks of unrest that have battered Mursi’s approval ratings. His critics say he is turning into an Islamist copy of Mubarak, seeking to advance the interests of his Muslim Brotherhood and failing to pull Egypt out of an economic quagmire or end police brutality.
The standoff between the president and his mostly secular opponents come after the Egyptian pound weakened to a record low against the dollar, helping push inflation up, while the economy has been growing at the slowest pace in two decades. Tensions have boiled over into violence in recent weeks and resurfaced at protests last weekend that left one person dead.
Masked youths dubbing themselves the Black Bloc said on Facebook that today will witness the “storming of the palace,” asking Mursi to choose between “departure or chaos.” The authenticity of the statement by the group, which is blamed by authorities for some of the recent violence, couldn’t be independently verified.
April 6 co-founder Mohamed Adel said his group’s march will be peaceful and is demanding retribution for protesters killed in clashes with security forces last year.
“We have a full list of peaceful measures that we can use to escalate and to exert pressure until justice is served,” Adel said by phone today. April 6 took part in the anti-Mubarak uprising and later threw its weight behind Mursi’s presidential bid during a run-off against Mubarak’s last premier.
Mursi’s approval rating has slid since he became Egypt’s first democratically elected civilian leader in June, according to a poll by local researcher Baseera. Conducted at the end of January, it showed 39 percent of voters would re-elect him tomorrow, an 11 percentage-point drop from the previous month.
The poll by Baseera showed Mursi’s overall approval rating slipped to 53 percent from 63 percent in December, with the lowest approval coming from young people and those with university degrees. The survey of 2,303 people on Jan. 30-31 cited a margin of error of about 3 percentage points.
Brotherhood officials have criticized the opposition for the repeated protests, arguing that the rallies and ensuing violence have stymied government efforts to stabilize the country. They have urged parties to focus instead on legislative elections due in the coming months.
“The opposition should shoulder the biggest share of responsibility for any violence, for calling for protests while everyone knows in advance the tensions they will inflame and the violence they will cause,” Ahmed Aref, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, said in a phone interview yesterday.
“Some opposition forces use street unrest to try to seize the power that they could not win through the ballot box,” Aref said. “They’re not capable of gaining people’s votes through realistic programs and powerful candidates.”
Political bickering has prolonged talks between Egypt and the International Monetary Fund over a $4.8 billion loan. Egyptian officials say the deal is necessary to help an economy that stalled as the 2011 uprising and the turmoil that followed kept investors and tourists away.
Demonstrators on Feb. 8 threw Molotov cocktails and rocks at the main presidential palace as thousands rallied against Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood, in protests that spread to other parts of the country. More than 50 people were killed in clashes in the week after the Jan. 25 second anniversary of the start of the uprising against Mubarak.
The violence, exacerbated by death sentences handed down in connection to the country’s worst soccer stadium clash, led Mursi to enact 30-day emergency measures in three provinces. He later backed away from them after curfews were defied.
To contact the reporter on this story: Mariam Fam in Cairo at firstname.lastname@example.org Salma El Wardany in Cairo at email@example.com
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