Mursi on Defensive as Police Abuse Claims Stoke Unrest

Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi’s government said it was committed to freedom after allegations of police brutality threatened to fuel new violence in a nation that’s yet to see calm two years after Hosni Mubarak’s ouster.

Mursi, already weighed down by criticism from an opposition that has dubbed his seven months in office a failure, met yesterday with top security officials and stressed the need to respect the human rights. His premier, in remarks broadcast nationwide, vowed there would be “no return to repression” and urged citizens to stop watching inflammatory coverage of protests and to get back to work.

Egypt’s secular and youth activist critics contend Mursi is giving authorities free rein to suppress protests and have rejected calls for a national dialogue until conditions such as a national unity government are met. His opponents also accuse Mursi of failing to revive the economy and restore security, and say he is selling out the nation’s broader interests to bolster the influence of his Muslim Brotherhood backers.

There’s “no return to human rights violations,” said Prime Minister Hisham Qandil. “This is not the preference of the government or the head of government or the president of the republic. This is the right of the Egyptian people whose sons sacrificed their lives” in the revolt against Hosni Mubarak.

More Protests

Even as officials sought to defuse days of tension that gained new momentum with a video of a man stripped naked and beaten by police in front of Mursi’s palace, fresh violence erupted north of the capital and the culture minister submitted his resignation, the state-run Ahram Online reported. It cited an unidentified official as saying he decided to quit because he was dismayed over the alleged beating of Hamada Saber that was captured on film.

The protests in Tanta late yesterday followed the funeral of an activist whose colleagues claim was killed by police while in custody. Protesters attempted to storm the local police station and other government buildings in clashes that left at least seven wounded, the state-run Middle East News Agency reported reported.

The outbreak of fighting in the city is the kind of unrest that has kept the country’s economy limping at the slowest pace in two decades since the uprising. Foreign reserves are down by almost 60 percent and the Egyptian pound weakened to record lows after the central bank introduced a foreign currency auction to limit the drain on the reserves.

Emergency Measures

Already simmering tensions since Mursi’s election in June boiled over after the Jan. 25 anniversary of the revolution as protesters in Port Said demonstrated against death sentences handed down by a Cairo court over a 2012 stadium riot that left more than 70 dead.

That violence prompted Mursi to enact temporary emergency measures in three Suez Canal provinces, triggering further fighting. In all, at least 50 people were killed -- many from gunshot wounds. Almost 600 police were injured in the fighting, the Interior Ministry said.

The president, Egypt’s first democratically elected civilian leader, has stressed authorities will deal with lawlessness firmly while pledging to also uphold the right of peaceful protest.

The assurances contrasted with the video showing a group of riot police striking Saber, 48, amid clashes with protesters who hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails at the palace in the capital on Feb. 1. Adding to the doubts about the government’s commitment to transparency was Saber’s initial claim the police were protecting him -- remarks he later recanted.

The incident -- a day after the Brotherhood and its rivals signed a deal to renounce the violence -- was seen by activists and the opposition as an example of Mursi’s disdain for the goals of the revolution.

This is not a government that violates the law or “orders the killing of its citizens,” Qandil said.

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