Egypt’s President Mohamed Mursi declared a state of emergency and curfew in three provinces wracked by days of unrest that have killed almost 50, and said he was ready to take additional steps to protect the nation.
In a late-night address, Mursi said attacks on civilians and state installations won’t be tolerated and that he had ordered transgressors be dealt with “all firmness and strength.” Mursi also called on political leaders to gather for a national dialogue today -- an offer his opponents has so far largely shunned. The tensions have stymied an economic recovery and political stability efforts ahead of parliamentary elections later in the year.
“I have affirmed before that I am opposed to resorting to any extraordinary measures, but when I see the security of the nation is in peril, then I act,” Mursi said, his voice rising to a near shout.
New protests were expected today, the state-run Ahram Gate reported. Opposition leader and Nobel Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei said on his Twitter account any talks “would be a waste of time” if Mursi doesn’t accept responsibility for the latest events, set up a national unity government and create a balanced committee to amend the constitution.
The state of emergency was to last for 30 days in the provinces of Port Said, Suez and Ismailiya. The measures were enacted after a spasm of violence since Jan. 25, the second anniversary of the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak. Some 32 died in Port Said alone.
The violence in that city was sparked by death sentences handed down on Jan. 26 against soccer fans over a 2012 stadium riot that left over 70 dead. The verdicts infuriated residents who believed they were being scapegoated for what was the nation’s worst soccer-related violence.
The acts of violence over the past few days “have nothing to do with the revolution” and are instead the “ugly face of a counter-revolution,” Mursi said.
The decrees would “lead to a massacre,” 27-year-old Mohamed El-Sayed, who was wounded in clashes in Port Said, said.
“People will not go home,” he said in an interview. “Someone like me who was wounded will not go home until I get back my rights.”
In Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Mursi’s televised announcement was met with chants of “leave, leave,” echoing the same calls that helped drive out his predecessor in February 2011. The declaration of a state of emergency evoked memories of measures taken by Mubarak’s government during the 2011 uprising.
A 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew was also in effect in those provinces, Mursi said.
The announcement was Mursi’s most assertive security-related decision since his election ushered in months of unrest and a deepening rift between Islamists and a mostly secular opposition.
His critics say he hasn’t yet presented a plan for Egypt’s revival and is focused on cementing the power of his Muslim Brotherhood backers at the expense of the nation’s broader interests. He has repeatedly denied the claims, saying progress is being thwarted by the chronic unrest and individuals seeking to undermine the goals of the 2011 uprising.
Storm the Prison
A statement on Mursi’s Facebook page said among those invited to today’s gathering were top opposition leaders Amre Moussa, Hamdeen Sabahi, Mohamed Salim El Awa and Ayman Nour. The National Salvation Front, an opposition bloc, said it would meet to discuss Mursi’s invitation, the state-run Middle East News Agency reported.
The violence in Port Said exploded after families and supporters of the defendants tried to storm the prison where the accused were being held, leading to the 32 fatalities. At least seven were killed and more than 450 wounded in renewed clashes yesterday following a funeral, health officials said.
Mursi, criticized earlier by the opposition for his silence after the unrest, said yesterday he was now giving notice to all that the institutions of the state are “able to protect the homeland and its installations.”
The president, who sparked a crisis in November by sidelining the judiciary with a decree that temporarily bolstered his powers and paved the way for the passage of an Islamist-backed constitution, said court rulings were to be respected. They were not, he said in reference to the Port Said verdict, directed against any particular group.
New protests today will commemorate another bloody milestone in the 2011 uprising. The groups calling for the protest urged security forces not to block the demonstrations and demanded an end to Mubarak-era economic policies.
Since Mubarak’s ouster, Egypt’s economy has sputtered. The currency has plunged 7 percent in the past month, and the central bank spent about 60 percent of its foreign reserves since the start of 2011. The budget deficit exceeded 11 percent of economic output last year, according to the IMF.
The government, after twice delaying a request for an International Monetary Fund loan, is now reaching out again for $4.8 billion in funding.