Feb. 8 (Bloomberg) -- Egypt’s opposition sounded a warning ahead of expected protests today following the assassination of a leading Tunisian opposition figure, which heightened unrest in the Arab Spring’s birthplace.
The concerns built on weeks of tension in Egypt, where critics of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi say he has failed to deliver on his campaign pledges. The unrest and violence, inspired by secularist suspicions over the Islamist’s motives, has left dozens dead over the past week and further stunted the government’s efforts to revive the economy.
Democratic Patriots party chief Chukri Beleid’s murder in Tunisia two days ago reinforced fears in Egypt that had been building for days. A religious edict by Egyptian cleric Mohamed Shaaban was read by secularists as giving the go-ahead to kill Mursi’s opponents. Egypt’s Cabinet said today it was looking at measures to criminalize such fatwas, while the Prosecutor General’s office ordered an investigation into the incident.
Beleid’s death “is a very serious warning,” the Popular Current party, headed by former presidential hopeful Hamdeen Sabahi, said on its Facebook page. “It could mean the Arab Spring countries might go through a series of assassinations of the opposition.”
“This kind of fatwa is the outcome of the polarization that has dominated the Egyptian political atmosphere” over the past few months, Khalil al-Anani, a political analyst at Durham University in the U.K., said by phone. The edict, and the assassination, are “very dangerous indicators that the political conflict can turn violent” if the Islamists fail to take a firm stance against incitements to violence.
The Front, which has called for mass rallies today, said Egypt was confronting the same conditions seen in Tunisia -- including an overflow of rival parties and the polarization of society.
Tensions in Egypt were rife well before Beleid’s death or the edict. The Jan. 25 second anniversary of the start of the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak, along with death sentences handed down over a soccer stadium riot last year, led to more than a week of unrest which left more than 50 dead. Mursi enacted emergency measures in three Suez Canal provinces and his defense minister warned the nation could face “collapse” if the unrest continued.
The clashes started a day after Islamists, the opposition National Salvation Front bloc and others signed an agreement to renounce violence. Even with the deal, the NSF, which includes opposition leaders including Sabahi, Nobel Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei and former presidential candidate Amre Moussa, refused to back down on preconditions for talks including that Mursi set up a unity government. Mursi is pushing ahead with new talks next week.
The opposition, taking its cues from the demands of street activists, has widened its demands to include calls for the ouster of the regime -- echoing the chants that helped drive Mubarak from power.
Shaaban, in comments aired live on the al-Hafez religious satellite channel on Feb. 2, named NSF leaders such as Sabahi and said “God’s verdict is death” for those “who want to burn Egypt.”
Calls and texts to his mobile phone seeking comment went unanswered yesterday.
The Muslim Brotherhood condemned what it described as “odd” calls by some extremists to kill opposition figures, the state-run Ahram Gate website reported. The Interior Ministry, meanwhile, ramped up security outside Sabahi’s home, as well as at the house of Nobel Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, the state-run Middle East News Agency said.
“Terrorising and killing the opposition, and issuing fatwas calling for their leadership’s blood, in Egypt and Tunisia, won’t stop the revolution from achieving its goals,” the NSF said in an e-mailed statement.
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