Egypt violence persists despite emergency moves

By Hamza Hendawi

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Jan. 28 2013 9:47 a.m. MST

Throughout the past five days, anger over the policies of Morsi, who in June became Egypt's first freely elected president, and the slow rate of change have helped fuel the protests and clashes.

The opposition National Salvation Front has painted the explosion of unrest as a backlash against attempts by Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists to monopolize power in Egypt. It says the instability is proof that Morsi doesn't have enough legitimacy to bring security or achieve reforms alone.

In his television address, Morsi repeated calls for a national dialogue to resolve the nation's problems, a call opponents have repeatedly rejected, saying the talks are mere window-dressing with no real say.

At a televised news conference, Salvation Front head Mohamed ElBaradei said the call was "without form and content."

ElBaradei said Morsi must first appoint a national unity government and a commission to amend the disputed constitution ratified in a referendum last month before the opposition can join a dialogue. He also wants Morsi to take legislative powers away from the Islamist-dominated upper house of parliament, or the Shura Council. Normally, the body is toothless with no lawmaking powers but it is serving in the role until a new lower house is elected. Fewer than 10 percent of voters bothered to cast ballots in elections for the body last year.

"We support any dialogue if it has a clear agenda that can shepherd the nation to the shores of safety," said ElBaradei, flanked by former Arab league chief Amr Moussa and leftist Hamdeen Sabahi.

The Front later issued a statement in which it said failure by Morsi to meet its conditions should be cause for early presidential elections, now scheduled for 2016. It also insisted Morsi, his administration and the interior minister bore political responsibility for last weekend's bloodshed and called for the lifting as soon as possible of the state of emergency declared in the three Suez Canal provinces.

It also called for mass, nationwide protests on Friday.

An official at President Mohammed Morsi's office said the dialogue will go ahead as scheduled later on Monday despite the absence of what he called "some forces." The official listed six parties and two political figures to be participating in the dialogue. They are mostly Islamist groups supporting Morsi.

The military was deployed in Suez on Friday and in Port Said the next day — a move that threatens to drag the armed forces into a direct conflict with protesters.

The Cabinet on Monday approved draft legislation that would authorize the armed forces to work alongside police in keeping security and arrest civilians, the state news agency MENA said. The military would have that role until the end of parliamentary elections, expected in April.

The legislation, quickly adopted by the Shoura Council for approval, means soldiers would be maintaining law and order on the streets alongside the police at a time when many Egyptians are increasingly distrustful of both.

The state of emergency call has sparked criticism that Morsi is using the same methods as Mubarak, who maintained his police-state rule through emergency laws in effect over the entire country throughout his rule.

Morsi has struggled to address the country's daunting social and economic problems since taking power in June. A relative unknown until his Muslim Brotherhood nominated him to run for president last year, he has been criticized for offering 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.

Associated Press writer Amir Makar contributed to this report.

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