Egypt’s National Defense Council May Declare Emergency

Egypt’s National Defense Council said it may declare a state of emergency and a curfew after dozens of people died in violence between protesters and police two years after the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak.

The council, which is headed by President Mohamed Mursi and includes the ministries of Defense and Interior, called for national dialogue among politicians to end the crisis, Information Minister Salah Abdel-Maqsoud said on state television.

“The National Defense Council may declare the state of emergency in the troubled areas,” he said. “The armed forces don’t interfere in the political process, but in the meantime it recognizes its national duty to secure the country’s vital institutions.”

At least 30 people died and 312 were injured today in clashes that erupted in Port Said after a court sentenced 21 defendants to death for their role in the nation’s worst-ever soccer-related rioting, the state-run Middle East News Agency reported. Overnight battles between opponents of Mursi and security forces, which followed yesterday’s demonstrations to mark the two-year anniversary of the uprising, killed nine people and injured 534 nationwide, the Health Ministry said.

The opposition National Salvation Front today called for another round of protests against Mursi on Feb. 1 unless its demands for a new government and constitutional amendments are met.

Army Deployment

“The protests all across the country show opposition is strong and the regime, which has been exclusionary, must respond,” Hussein Abdel Ghani, a spokesman for the NSF, said in a telephone interview. “This is a new wave for the revolution. We will continue to call on Egyptians to use all legitimate and peaceful means to make change.”

Soldiers were deployed in Suez, at the southern entrance of the Suez Canal, to protect state institutions, Al Arabiya reported, citing state television, and in Port Said to halt the clashes.

Today’s violence in Port Said after a criminal court handed down sentences earlier today for those convicted of killing more than 70 fans during a game on Feb. 1 between Port Said’s al-Masri team and Cairo’s al-Ahly club.

A final verdict in the soccer case is scheduled for March 9. It will come after a review by the Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, Egypt’s highest religious authority, the court in Cairo said.

Prosecutor-General Talaat Ibrahim ordered his staff in Ismaliya, Suez and Port Said to investigate the death of protesters yesterday, according to e-mailed statement from his office.

Expanding Powers

Mursi, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood was narrowly elected in June in a runoff against Mubarak’s last premier. He’s fueled discontent by issuing decrees that temporarily expanded his powers and pushing through ratification of an Islamist-drafted constitution.

“The people decided to take to the streets to put the revolution back on track,” said Emad Gad, a former lawmaker with a secular party in the now-dissolved parliament’s lower house. “Neither the president, nor the Muslim Brotherhood honor any of the pledges they make.”

“Mursi is working for the Brotherhood and not for Egypt,” Gad said.

Mursi has struggled to revive an economy that, since the revolution, has grown at the slowest pace for two decades in the two years since the revolution, as tourists and investors stayed away. Authorities are battling to defend the pound, which has plunged almost 7 percent in the past month. The central bank has 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 International Monetary Fund.

IMF Talks

While the government is in talks with the IMF on a $4.8 billion loan that officials say will boost investor confidence and unlock more funds, the negotiations have repeatedly stalled amid political bickering. An IMF delegation will arrive within two weeks to “finalize” the deal, Prime Minister Hisham Qandil said Jan. 24.

Ahmed Sobea, a media adviser for the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, said it was too early to judge Mursi, especially given the challenges he inherited. He urged the opposition to propose solutions and not put up obstacles.

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