Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has urged leading opposition figures to attend a “national dialogue” meeting following four days of deadly violence.
Dozens of people have died since a court sentenced 21 people to death over football riots. Anger over Mr Morsi’s rule has fuelled unrest elsewhere.
Mr Morsi declared a state of emergency in Port Said, Suez and Ismalia, and a 21:00 to 06:00 curfew from Monday.
The opposition has yet to announce whether it will attend the talks.
It says the president must address its demands over the recently adopted constitution.
Violence continued on Monday morning, with one man killed by gunfire near Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
Egypt’s Islamist-backed constitution received a “yes” majority in a final round of voting on a referendum that saw a low voter turnout, but the deep divisions it has opened up threaten to fuel continued turmoil.
Passage is a victory for Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, but a costly one. The bruising battle over the past month stripped away hope that the long-awaited constitution would bring a national consensus on the path Egypt will take after shedding its autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak nearly two years ago.
Instead, Morsi disillusioned many non-Islamists who had once backed him and has become more reliant on his core support in the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists. Hard-liners in his camp are determined to implement provisions for stricter rule by Islamic law in the charter, which is likely to further fuel divisions.
Saturday’s voting in 17 of Egypt’s 27 provinces was the second and final round of the referendum. Preliminary results released early Sunday by Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood showed that 71.4 percent of those who voted Saturday said “yes” after 95.5 percent of the ballots were counted.
Members of the Muslim Brotherhood are resorting to vigilante justice in Egypt’s power struggle. During clashes with opponents of President Mohammed Morsi last Wednesday night, the Islamists took prisoners and tortured them with beatings. Eyewitness reports suggest that the police tolerated the attacks.
The Islamists got hold of Mohammed Omar just as he was delivering bandages to a gas station where injured people were being treated. “You’re an enemy of God!” they yelled at him.
“There were five men. They beat me and dragged me away,” says Omar, a computer expert who lives in Cairo. His face is bruised and his eyes are swollen shut, and his wrists are cut from the plastic cuffs they put on him.
They took him to a sort of room consisting on one side of a gate to the presidential palace, with the other walls made up of steel barriers and police officers. Here members of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups interrogated and mistreated their “prisoners.”
Mohammed Omar is one of many demonstrators who say they were held by Islamists last Wednesday, in some cases for more than 12 hours. Now, as witnesses are telling their stories of that night, a clear picture is emerging not just of the violence committed by members of the Brotherhood, but also their readiness to mete out arbitrary vigilante justice.
Egypt’s military warned Saturday of ‘disastrous consequences’ if the crisis that sent tens of thousands of protesters back into the streets is not resolved, signaling the army’s return to an increasingly polarized and violent political scene.
The military said serious dialogue is the “best and only” way to overcome the nation’s deepening conflict over a disputed draft constitution hurriedly adopted by Islamist allies of President Mohammed Morsi, and recent decrees granting himself near-absolute powers.
“Anything other than that (dialogue) will force us into a dark tunnel with disastrous consequences; something which we won’t allow,” the statement said.
Failing to reach a consensus, “is in the interest of neither side. The nation as a whole will pay the price,” it added. The statement was read by an unnamed military official on state television.
Once again, Egyptians are out in the streets. Yet these demonstrations are quite different from those in January and February 2011, when people of every faith, class, and political persuasion joined together to bring down a dictator. Indeed, Egypt’s triumph of national unity has turned into a bitter impasse over narrow interests. Demonstrators surround the Supreme Constitutional Court not to protect the sacred institution but to shut it down, judges declare an open-ended strike, and groups of angry protesters rally against one another, each challenging the other’s right to a place in the national dialogue. In the abstract, heated debate is a good thing for countries undergoing political transitions. In Egypt, however, the result has been instability.
There are a variety of explanations for Egypt’s tribulations. Some argue that decisions made by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) back in February and March 2011, including on the timing of the transition and the principles that guided it, explain the current bind. Others point to the lack of a permanent constitution and parliament, which the SCAF dissolved in June 2012 at the recommendation of Egypt’s highest court. These critics argue that the absence of rules, regulations, and laws left the country vulnerable to the whims of incompetent generals and then authoritarian Islamists. Egyptian liberals and secular revolutionaries, meanwhile, fear the Islamist ideology of President Mohammed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood leader. Egypt’s newly approved draft constitution, which includes a particular interpretation of Islamic law, and a massive Brotherhood-sponsored rally last Saturday to “save sharia” from opponents of the new code only reinforce their fears.
The rise of political Islam following the Arab Spring has many worried that the democratic achievements of the revolution could be lost. In Egypt and Tunisia alike, citizens are once again taking to the streets. But this time they are opposing Islamism. Does secularism still stand a chance?
Egypt’s strongman was sitting in the first row of the mosque. “Anyone who criticizes the president is worse than the heretics who attacked the Prophet in Mecca,” the imam preached in his sermon. Then he handed the microphone to Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, saying that he should address the faithful himself. But he never got a chance.
“Down with Morsi! Down with the Muslim Brotherhood!” chanted hundreds of men who were now pushing their way to the front. “Enough is enough!” they shouted. “No to tyranny!” For them, it was intolerable to hear the president being compared with the Prophet Muhammad. Morsi, surrounded by bodyguards, had to leave the mosque on Friday. It was both a scandal and a first for Egypt.
But it was only the beginning. Later, more than 100,000 people gathered on Tahrir Square again to protest the actions of their president.
There are no signs that tensions will ease in Egypt, and it is difficult to predict the outcome of the current power struggle. The president, who gave himself dictatorial special powers, seems unimpressed by the storm he has unleashed among secular Egyptians. In rushed proceedings, he also held a vote on a new constitution, in which the Constituent Assembly, dominated by Islamists, clearly voted in favor of Sharia law. The draft constitution will soon be put to a referendum. But the opposition will not accept this, because it is determined to stop the Muslim Brotherhood’s Morsi.
This says a lot about the most important country in the Arab world, which is only at the beginning of its democratization. It also says a lot about the emotional state of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, which came to power as a result of a revolution that it had only halfheartedly supported. The Islamist movement has decades of experience in dealing with authoritarian rulers, but it knows nothing about freedom and pluralism.
Egypt’s rebellion of the judges against President Mohammed Morsi became complete on Sunday with the country’s highest court declaring an open-ended strike on the day it was supposed to rule on the legitimacy of two key assemblies controlled by allies of the Islamist leader.
The strike by the Supreme Constitutional Court and opposition plans to march on the presidential palace on Tuesday take the country’s latest political crisis to a level not seen in the nearly two years of turmoil since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster in a popular uprising.
Judges from the country’s highest appeals court and its sister lower court were already on an indefinite strike, joining colleagues from other tribunals who suspended work last week to protest what they saw as Morsi’s assault on the judiciary.
The last time Egypt had an all-out strike by the judiciary was in 1919, when judges joined an uprising against British colonial rule.
The standoff began when Morsi issued decrees on Nov. 22 giving him near-absolute powers that granted himself and the Islamist-dominated assembly drafting the new constitution immunity from the courts.
If this becomes a long stand off as it was at a similar juncture in Pakistan it’s likely that the majority of Egyptians will back the courts.
Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court has said it is halting all work indefinitely in protest at the “psychological pressure” it has faced.
Islamist protesters earlier prevented the judges from meeting in Cairo to rule on a draft constitution.
The supporters of the president wanted to block any ruling that would question the document’s legality.
President Mohammed Morsi has said a referendum on the constitution will be held on 15 December.
His opponents say the draft constitution undermines basic freedoms.
Sunday’s developments are the latest in an unfolding confrontation between Mr Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood supporters on one side, and his mainly secular political opponents and the judiciary on the other.
Mr Morsi adopted sweeping new powers in a decree on 22 November that stripped the judiciary of any power to challenge his decisions, so it is unclear what effect any Supreme Constitutional Court ruling would have.
Tens of thousands of Islamists waved Egyptian flags and hoisted portraits of President Mohammed Morsi in rallies nationwide Saturday to support his efforts to rush through a new draft constitution despite widespread opposition by secular activists and some in the judiciary.
The demonstrations — the largest turnout of Morsi supporters since he came to office in June— were seen as a test of strength for Islamists seeking to counteract mass opposition protests denouncing the president’s decision to seize near absolute power and the fast-tracking of the draft charter by an Islamist-led assembly ahead of a Constitutional Court decision on Sunday on whether to dissolve the panel.
Morsi says he acted to prevent courts led by holdovers from Hosni Mubarak’s ousted regime from delaying a transition to democracy. But his decision last week to put himself above judicial oversight has plunged the country into turmoil and mobilized an increasingly cohesive opposition leadership of prominent liberal and secular politicians — a contrast to the leaderless youth uprising last year that toppled Mubarak.
Egyptian protesters and police clashed in Cairo on Tuesday just hours ahead of a planned massive rally by opponents of the country’s Islamist president demanding he rescind decrees that granted him near-absolute powers.
Police fired tear gas and hundreds of protesters pelted them with rocks at a street between the U.S. Embassy and Tahrir Square, birthplace of the uprising that toppled president Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian regime nearly two years ago.
The protesters have been staging a sit-in at the square since Friday night to demand President Mohammed Morsi revoke his decrees.
By mid-day, hundreds were starting to gather in Tahrir, chanting against Morsi’s decrees and the Brotherhood. A new banner in the square proclaimed, “The Brotherhood stole the country.”
“We are here to bring down the constitutional declaration issued by Morsi,” said one protester at Tahrir, Mahmoud Youssef.