CAIRO: Egypt’s president declared a state of emergency and curfew in three Suez Canal provinces hit hardest by a weekend wave of unrest that left more than 50 dead, using tactics of the ousted regime to get a grip on discontent over his Islamist policies and the slow pace of change.
Angry and almost screaming, Mohammed Morsi vowed in a televised address Sunday night that he would not hesitate to take even more action to stem the latest eruption of violence across much of the country. But at the same time, he sought to reassure Egyptians that his latest moves would not plunge the country back into authoritarianism.
“There is no going back on freedom, democracy and the supremacy of the law,” he said.
The worst violence this weekend was in the Mediterranean coastal city of Port Said, where seven people were killed Sunday, pushing the toll for two days of clashes to at least 44. The unrest was sparked on Saturday by a court conviction and death sentence for 21 defendants involved in a mass soccer riot in the city’s main stadium on Feb. 1, 2012 that left 74 dead.
Most of those sentenced to death were local soccer fans from Port Said, deepening a sense of persecution that Port Said’s residents have felt since the stadium disaster, the worst soccer violence ever in Egypt.
At least another 11 died on Friday elsewhere in the country during rallies marking the second anniversary of the anti-Mubarak uprising. Protesters used the occasion to renounce Morsi and his Islamic fundamentalist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, which emerged as the country’s most dominant political force after Mubarak’s ouster.
The curfew and state of emergency, in force for 30 days, affect the provinces of Port Said, Ismailiya and Suez. The curfew takes effect Monday from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. every day.
Morsi, in office since June, also invited the nation’s political forces to a dialogue starting Monday to resolve the country’s latest crisis. A statement issued later by his office said that among those invited were the country’s top reform leader, Nobel peace Laureate Mohammed ElBaradei, former Arab League chief Amr Moussa and Hamdeen Sabahi, a leftist politician who finished third in last year’s presidential race.
The three are leaders of the National Salvation Front, an umbrella for the main opposition parties.
Khaled Dawoud, the Front’s spokesman, said Morsi’s invitation was meaningless unless he clearly states what is on the agenda. That, he added, must include amending a disputed constitution drafted by the president’s Islamist allies and rejected by the opposition.
He also faulted the president for not acknowledging his political responsibility for the latest bout of political violence.
“It is all too little too late,” he said.
In many ways, Morsi’s decree and his call for a dialogue betrayed his despair in the face of wave after wave of political unrest, violence and man-made disasters that, at times, made the country look like it was about to come unglued.
A relative unknown until his Muslim Brotherhood nominated him to run for president last year, Morsi is widely criticized for having offered no vision for the country’s future after nearly 30 years of dictatorship under Mubarak and no coherent policy to tackle seemingly endless problems, from a free-falling economy and deeply entrenched social injustices to surging crime and chaos on the streets.