Bloomberg News

Egypt Islamists Ready New Protest as Violence Condemned

August 18, 2013

Cairo Morgues Turn Battleground for Families Seeking Loved Ones

An Egyptian man walks between lines of bodies wrapped in shrouds at a makeshift morgue in Cairo on August 15, 2013, following a crackdown on the protest camps of supporters of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi the previous day. Photographer: Mahmoud Khaled/AFP via Getty Images

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood readied for new protests in support of ousted President Mohamed Mursi, raising the prospect of more of the violence that has left the military-backed government facing pressure from key allies.

Clashes that have left more than 800 dead since police raided two Islamist protest camps on Aug. 14 have sparked an international outcry, with the European Union saying today it would “urgently review” relations with the Arab world’s most populous nation. Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy condemned talk of cutting aid to Egypt, and said the government would not abandon its efforts to restore order to a nation gripped by chaos. Markets fell on the turmoil.

“We keep hearing if Egypt doesn’t do this or doesn’t do that, then aid will be stopped here or will be stopped there,” Fahmy said. “If one side is revising aid they are giving, we are revising aid we receive as well.”

The government’s increasingly strident response to foreign calls for restraint reflects Egypt’s tenuous situation following Mursi’s July 3 overthrow by a military responding to days of protests against him.

What began as a crackdown on leaders of the country’s most powerful Islamist group with dozens of arrests has evolved into deadly assaults on pro-Mursi protesters, some said to be armed. The Interior Ministry, which oversees Egypt’s security forces, said in an e-mailed statement that 70 police have been killed since two protest camps were raided last week.

Brotherhood Unbowed

The Brotherhood, which fielded Mursi for office last year, has refused to be cowed, and was pressing ahead today with plans for new protests demanding his reinstatement outside the constitutional court and near a presidential palace in Cairo.

The government’s response to the unrest has elicited condemnation from some of Egypt’s staunchest allies.

“Together with its member states, the EU will urgently review in the coming days its relations with Egypt and adopt measures aimed at pursuing” the goals of promoting an “end to violence, resumption of political dialogue and return to a democratic process,” EU President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Barroso said today in a joint statement.

“Further escalation must be prevented,” Van Rompuy and Barroso said. “It could have unpredictable consequences for Egypt and for its broader neighborhood.”

Last week President Barack Obama announced the cancellation of a joint U.S. military exercise with Egypt and warned that Egypt’s military-backed government has embarked on a “dangerous path.” He stopped short of cutting off the $1.3 billion in annual military aid the U.S. gives its longtime ally.

Economy Sputtering

The bloodshed over the past week has further damped hopes for a quick recovery of Egypt’s economy, which has been growing at its slowest pace in two decades.

Egyptian shares fell the most today in two months, with the benchmark EGX 30 Index dropping 3.9 percent by the close today. The price of the government’s benchmark 5.75 percent euro bonds due in 2020 tumbled the most in 14 months over three days, sending the yield up 85 basis points, or 0.85 of a percentage point, to 9.18 percent as of Aug. 16.

Separately, five-year credit-default swaps, contracts which insure the nation’s debt against non-payment, were quoted at 810 basis points according to data provider CMA, the highest in more than a month. That ranks Egypt among the 10 riskiest nations in the world.

Troubled Relations

Fahmy said Egypt was having a “not easy time” with many of its international friends, saying they were calling on authorities to practice restraint while ignoring violence by the other side. He said the government was willing to form a fact-finding commission to look into events following the removal of Mursi, Egypt’s first freely elected civilian leader.

Still, Egyptian officials showed little sign of bending to international pressure or the protests by Mursi’s backers, some of whom have cast the fight as one on behalf of Islam itself.

The Aug. 14 raid on the pro-Mursi protest camps in Cairo killed hundreds and unleashed clashes across the country that have killed dozens more since. Prime Minister Hazem El Beblawi’s office said yesterday his government will “strike with an iron fist” at instigators of violence, according to an e-mailed statement. Both sides blame each other for Egypt’s deadliest unrest since the January 2011 uprising that ended former President Hosni Mubarak’s three decades of rule.

240 Detained

The Interior Ministry said it arrested 124 Brotherhood leaders in the past 24 hours, while prosecutors today ordered 240 members of the organization detained for 15 days pending investigation into allegations of armed violence in Ramsis Square. A day earlier, authorities had fired tear gas into a prominent mosque in the square to clear out Mursi supporters who had encamped there, and at least 385 protesters were arrested, the Interior Ministry said.

The government is also considering breaking up the Brotherhood. Presidential adviser Moustafa Hegazy later said in a televised press conference that Egypt seeks to have all organizations, including the Brotherhood, operating under a legal framework.

“We’re re-entering a period where the Brotherhood will be returned to pariah status, which will likely reflect on other Islamist groups,” Ziad Akl, senior researcher at the Cairo-based Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said by phone. Some groups “will work within the framework of the state while others will turn into resistance movements,” he said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Tarek El-Tablawy in Cairo at teltablawy@bloomberg.net; Tamim Elyan in Cairo at telyan@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net


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