Egypt’s government urged supporters of ousted President Mohamed Mursi to end weeks of sit-ins and promised them safe passage to vacate the sites, signaling a crackdown may be imminent.
The appeal came a day after the cabinet authorized police to take action against thousands of demonstrators, led by Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood backers, who have occupied two main Cairo squares demanding his reinstatement. Protesters, showing little inclination to comply, called new rallies tomorrow, raising the spectre of new clashes with security forces like those that killed dozens of Mursi loyalists last weekend.
Egypt’s central bank unexpectedly lowered its benchmark interest rate today by 50 basis points for the first time since 2009 as violence and political unrest hurt the country’s economy. The country’s benchmark 5.75-percent euro bonds due in 2020 have pared gains amid the standoff, with the yield rising eight basis points to 8.91 percent as of 5:09 p.m. in Cairo, the highest in more than three weeks.
The Interior Ministry called on demonstrators to “resort to reason, prioritize the interests of the homeland, heed public interest and swiftly leave for everyone’s safety,” according to a statement read on state television today. “This comes with a complete pledge of a safe exit and full protection to all those who respond to the call.”
Mursi’s July 3 ouster by the military compounded frictions that have built up since Hosni Mubarak was toppled in 2011. Immediately after Mursi was removed, authorities began rounding up top Islamists and freezing their assets, and yesterday referred the Brotherhood’s top leader, Mohammed Badie, and two other senior figures to trial on charges of inciting murder.
Mursi’s supporters, meanwhile, have been protesting daily since the military removed him following months of mounting frustration with his administration. Critics faulted him for the economy’s failure to rebound from its slowest growth rate in two decades, and contended he was more intent on cementing the Muslim Brotherhood’s hold on power than in taking care of the nation as a whole. Economic growth may slow to 2 percent this year from 2.2 percent in 2012, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Far from stabilizing the country, Mursi’s removal has injected a deadlier level of violence into the nation’s divisions, leaving officials on both sides warning of civil war.
More Violence Seen
The government statement authorizing police to take action “is designed to threaten people” at the protest sites “and tell them to leave on their own,” Hani Sabra, Middle East director at the Eurasia Group in New York, said by telephone. “I don’t think that that’s going to happen, so the chance that this turns into a violent confrontation is pretty high.”
Islamists have stacked sandbags and built brick barriers at the main sit-in site in Cairo City’s Nasr City district to repel possible attacks.
The Interior Ministry’s plan to deal with the sit-ins will be carried out lawfully, and may start with police warning protesters, then using tear gas and other “legitimate self-defense” measures if needed, the state-run Middle East News Agency reported, citing an unidentified ministry official.
Right to Protest
Mursi’s backers insist they have the right to protest peacefully against the illegitimate removal of a democratically elected leader.
“Our peacefulness is stronger than their bullets, and the coalition holds the coup and the putschists fully responsible for any act of violence or murder,” a pro-Mursi group said in an e-mailed statement.
Influential Salafi preacher Mohamed Hassan urged Egyptians to support the protesters. “Don’t leave your brothers in the squares to be slaughtered,” Hassan said in an emotional plea broadcast on Al Jazeera today.
Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel peace laureate, urged a peaceful end to the crisis, according to an e-mailed statement from the presidency. At the same time, the statement said, “the state has the right to protect its citizens against any terror or threats to their security.”
The showdown escalated after Defense Minister Abdelfatah al-Seesi urged Egyptians to rally to give authorities a mandate to quash “violence” and “terrorism,” and hundreds of thousands responded. Since the ouster, al-Seesi, who was appointed last year by Mursi, has gained iconic status among secularists, his face twinned on posters with that of Gamal Abdel Nasser, the pan-Arabist president who overthrew Egypt’s monarchy in the 1950s.
The Brotherhood has accused security forces of deliberately killing unarmed protesters. The Interior Ministry denied using violence and accused the Islamists of stoking unrest to further their political aims. Authorities point to the discovery of corpses with signs of torture at sit-in sites as evidence the talk of peaceful protests is hollow.