Feb. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi sought to placate Islamist allies and denied he planned to fire his army chief, as a third day of strikes in a key Suez Canal city added to strains on his government.
Mursi moved to repair fraying ties with the Salafi Nour party, adherents of an ultra-orthodox form of Islam who finished second behind the Muslim Brotherhood’s party in the last parliamentary election. One Nour official had reacted angrily yesterday to being fired as a Mursi adviser, and another quit as aide to the president in sympathy.
Mursi spokesman Yasser Ali stressed the president’s “respect and appreciation” for parties including Al Nour, which he said is “at the heart” of Egypt’s political life. The president’s office also dismissed unspecified media reports that he was about to remove Defense Minister Abdelfatah Al-Seesi, and praised his “patriotic and exceptional leadership role.”
The Salafi row risks depriving Mursi of an ally amid opposition pressure to form a unity government and amend the Islamist-drafted constitution. Speculation over the army chief was a reminder of another factor Mursi must weigh as he struggles to stabilize Egypt and revive its economy.
Protests in Port Said, where violence last month led Al-Seesi to warn of the “collapse of the state,” were joined by 20,000 workers as factories shut down, the state-run Middle East News Agency reported today. The demonstrators are demanding justice for those killed during the clashes.
Egypt’s benchmark stock index declined for a fifth day, and the pound was little changed from yesterday’s record low. The country’s foreign reserves fell to $13.6 billion last month, more than 60 percent down since the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak, and a $4.8 billion International Monetary Fund loan has been repeatedly delayed.
Mursi has rejected calls for a unity government and said parliamentary elections due in the coming months will help restore stability. That prospect receded yesterday when the constitutional court ordered changes to a draft election law.
Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood “is going for broke” in the election, and can’t take the support of Salafis for granted, said Shadi Hamid, research director at the Brookings Doha Center.
“The Salafis have always been concerned about Brotherhood domination,” he said. “If the liberals were smart, they’d find a way to create a wedge” between the two.
Alam El-Din, Mursi’s former Salafi adviser, denied any wrongdoing in his post and said his firing was a political move.
His departure sparked a Twitter war between Brotherhood and Nour supporters. Nour Spokesman Nader Bakkar said that if the president is going to dismiss people based on “suspicions,” then he too should resign based on “suspicions of the involvement of some of his employees in the willful killing of demonstrators.”
Before the statement by the presidency, the army’s spokesman, Ahmed Mohamed Ali, had slammed reports that his chief al-Seesi would be dismissed, and urged the media to avoid inaccurate reports about the military that could “jeopardize national security.”
The army, which ran the country after Mubarak’s fall, has stayed on the sidelines since handing power to Mursi. It has stepped in only to protect state installations amid an explosion of violence directed at Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood in the past month. Aside from that, it has avoided getting drawn into street clashes, and did nothing to enforce a curfew Mursi ordered in three Suez Canal provinces.
“It’s definitely in the military’s interest to moderate the Brotherhood’s behavior and be a kind of internal check on how far they go,” Hamid said. “I think they probably see that as a potential role.”
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