Feb. 24 (Bloomberg) -- Protests in the Mediterranean coastal city of Port Said spread to other Egyptian cities, casting doubt on President Mohamed Mursi’s ambition for elections set to begin in April to stabilize the country.
The demonstrations have been accompanied by mounting calls for a boycott of the parliamentary vote, which Mursi yesterday rescheduled to accommodate Coptic Christians’ observance of Easter. The opposition Tagammu party today joined Nobel laureate and Constitution Party head Mohamed ElBaradei in urging voters to shun the election. The Wafd party has criticized the elections, while leaving the National Salvation Front, an opposition alliance of which ElBaradei is a prominent leader, to set a strategy.
The NSF, the broadest secular group, wants voting to be delayed to allow tensions to ease and for the economy to pick up. Mursi, backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, has resisted opposition calls for a national unity government and expressed the hope that the vote would end the unrest and violence that has spooked investors and damaged the economy since the uprising that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.
Protesters in Port Said blocked entrances to the city, halting work at government offices and the customs authority, while also preventing more than 35,000 workers from reaching their jobs in its investment zone as demonstrations entered an eighth day, the state-run Middle East News Agency reported. The unrest hasn’t affected operations in the Suez Canal, the military said yesterday.
Authorities clashed with some of hundreds of protesting quarry workers in the Nile Delta city of Kafr el-Sheikh after an attempt to storm the provincial governor’s building, Al-Jazeera Mubashir Misr, the Egyptian branch of the Arabic satellite channel, reported. Similar protests broke out in the northern city of Mansoura, with hundreds of people protesting outside the provincial government’s building.
The Port Said protests, spearheaded by supporters of a local soccer team, have been the largest expression of discontent with Mursi. The president, who faces a rift with some of his Islamist allies, has pushed ahead with setting a date for the vote despite the opposition calls for a delay.
Islamist parties welcomed Mursi’s initial decree last week to hold a four-stage parliamentary election starting April 27 and ending in June. Mursi shifted the start of the elections yesterday to avoid clashing with the Christian holidays. The first round of polling in Cairo, Buheira, Minya, Port Said and North Sinai provinces will be held April 22 and 23, with the last round held on June 15 and 16, with parliament due to convene on July 2.
The threat of boycotting the vote is the “biggest indicator of the opposition’s failure” to reach out to the public, Mourad Ali, media adviser to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, was cited as saying by MENA.
Protesters in Cairo and Port Said gathered for anti-government rallies last week urging the dismissal of the Mursi-appointed Prosecutor General Talaat Abdullah and the immediate release of detained political activists. Organizers said the rallies are the first step toward a nationwide civil-disobedience campaign, drawing on continuing protests in Alexandria and the Suez Canal cities of Ismailia and Suez.
Protesters blocked the entrance of a key government building in Cairo’s Tahrir Square today, angering many people who had come from other provinces to complete paperwork.
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